Opioid Battle Shifting from Chronic to Acute Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

Efforts to limit prescribing of opioid pain medication are no longer confined to just chronic pain.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has introduced legislation that would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue guidelines for the safe prescribing of opioids for acute pain – generally pain that lasts for three months or less.

“When someone gets a tooth out and only needs medication for three days - why are they sent home from the doctor’s office with 30 Percocet?” asked Sen. Gillibrand.

The Preventing Overprescribing for Pain Act calls on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the CDC to issue new guidelines for the use of opioids for acute pain within two years. New York Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) will introduce the bill in the House.

“We need to ensure these powerful medications are used safely while cutting down on the risk that extra pills could lead to possible abuse,” said Rep. Slaughter.

The CDC is currently focused on guidelines for primary care physicians to use when prescribing opioids for chronic pain -- which is pain that lasts for three months or more. 

Plans to implement the guidelines in January were delayed by the CDC after widespread criticism about its secrecy and lack of transparency during the drafting of the guidelines.

As many as 11 million Americans use opioids for chronic pain and many fear losing access to them if the guidelines are adopted. The CDC is currently reviewing the guidelines and no timetable has been set for their adoption.

“As the opioid epidemic continues to grow in New York and across the country, we can’t wait any longer to take action and curb this growing crisis,” said Gillibrand. “We have introduced bipartisan legislation that will help fix this problem by requiring the CDC to issue clear guidelines to help medical providers safely prescribe opioids for these common types of acute pain. I am urging my colleagues in Congress to pass this measure to help curb the growing opioid crisis.”

Gillibrand and Slaughter’s offices issued a joint news release citing a recent CDC report which found that in 2014 nearly 19,000 people died in the U.S. from overdose related to opioid pain relievers. Those statistics are somewhat muddied, however, because some overdose deaths may have been counted twice and some heroin deaths may have been misclassified as morphine deaths, according to CDC researchers.

With opioid prescriptions in decline for several years, many experts believe the still rising number of opioid deaths is attributable to a growing number of heroin and fentanyl overdoses, not from pain medication.