The battle of pain doctors and drug industry groups versus government and civilian proponents of limiting prescription drug use came to a halt on Tuesday. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines clearly defining the standards by which medical providers are to prescribe opioids. According to federal statistics, there was a record high in 2014 of 28,647 deaths caused by prescribed opioid abuse. For a long time, doctors argued that the recommendations of the government intervening in their practices of prescribing these painkillers for chronic pain patients would create unnecessary obstacles for those who are truly in need. However, record high statistics and significant studies made for a more impressionable, stronger debate for ultimately curbing the deadly addiction that may be initiated in these doctors offices. One study revealed one in every 32 patients that were on a prescribed opioid treatment at high doses died from related causes within two and a half years of the initial prescription. The government determined that the health risk of becoming highly addicted to opioids outweighs the potential benefits they provide, especially for common symptoms like back pain.
The new guidelines are not overbearing nor are they binding, but they definitively specify the method to deeming these drugs as medically necessary or not for a patient. The CDC standards read that doctors should first try pain relievers such as Ibuprofen before resorting to opioid painkillers and if opioid therapy is found to be necessary, they recommend it at three to no more than seven days’ supply for short-term pain.
This change does not affect cancer patients or end-of-life treatments because it was not intended to be a harsh, universal mandate. The overall goal of the CDC and proponents of the change is to reduce the risk of an addiction that has already taken too many American lives. IMS Health reported that Percocet, Oxycontin, and Vicodin opioids gross sales of nearly $2 billion a year in our country and it is likely that the potential income loss is one of the industry’s biggest concerns. But from my perspective, if these pain doctors are sincerely concerned with the long-term well-being of their patients, the money loss doesn’t even come close to comparing.