Area doctors and addiction specialists are praising a new set of federal guidelines aimed at reducing prescription opioid use.
For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is laying out recommendations for prescribing painkillers. Primary care physicians are being encouraged to first try non-opioid options such as Tylenol or Advil; if they do prescribe a potentially addictive drug such as OxyContin, they’re urged to carefully monitor its use.
Some national chronic pain advocacy groups are raising concerns that the nonbinding guidelines could create barriers to effective care, but Beverly Haberle with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, an addiction services nonprofit, calls the move long overdue.
“Unfortunately, there is not always a lot of education for physicians who are prescribing,” she said. “So I think setting up some guidelines is a positive thing in dealing with something that has gotten way out of hand.”
The guidelines, which are not meant for doctors treating patients diagnosed with cancer or patients undergoing palliative and end-of-life care, call for prescriptions to be for the lowest dosage available for an opioid.
“It stirs our need for more thorough evaluation of all the options, including nonpharmacological options,” said Dr. Leonard Kamen, clinical director of the MossRehab Outpatient Center and past president of the Greater Philadelphia Pain Society. “I think it makes us more aware of the risks and the benefits of opioids, and that physicians need to be careful in prescribing them.”
In 2014, more than 2,700 people died from overdoses in Pennsylvania, a 13 percent increase from the year before.
Many states have taken their own steps to reduce opioid use, including a law signed this week in Massachusetts that creates a seven-day supply limit for most first-time prescriptions.