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Pain Care: The CDC’s New Approach to Opioids

January 30, 2023

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The Meadows

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By Alanna Hilbink

Throughout history, opium and its derivative opiates and opioids have relieved a lot of pain, but they have also caused a lot of harm. So how do we balance the real, medical need for pain management with opioids’ potential for side effects like abuse and addiction?

One way is by calling drug manufacturers and distributors into account for their role in creating an addiction and overdose epidemic. Another is through devising and implementing best prescribing practices, a work in progress by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other professional, scientific organizations. A third way is by offering real, compassionate, and science-based opioid abuse and addiction treatment.

How do we balance the real, medical need for pain management with opioids’ potential for side effects like abuse and addiction?

Managing the Opioid Epidemic

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that more than 96,700 people die from drug overdoses in a year. Opioids are a factor in seven out of every 10 of these overdose deaths. In 2015, the reported death toll was 52,400, about half as much as the current average, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. But this figure was still startling enough for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDD) to create a set of guidelines in 2016.

According to the 2016 CDC guidelines, opioids should be used only after you and your doctor give them serious thought, carefully determining dosage and duration after considering nonopioid alternatives first. The guidelines included clinician education and training as well as public outreach.

Pain Care Regulation Gone Wrong

What no CDC guideline for prescribing opioids included was hard and fast rules. As the CDC shares, “the recommendations are voluntary and intended to be flexible to support, not supplant, individualized, patient-centered care.” The CDC did not expect them to become rigid, yet also often inconsistent, rules. And they did not predict the impact the guidelines would have on practices, policies, insurance coverage, and you.

Some of these impacts included the following:

  • Limited access to pain management for those on Medicaid
  • Limited access to pain management for those with cancer or on palliative care
  • Limited access to opioid medication for addiction treatment
  • Limits of less than seven-day supplies of opioids for pain management
  • Insurers and pharmacies creating their own limits and regulations that do not take into account individual needs
  • Rapid tapering of use, abrupt discontinuation of prescriptions, or abandonment of patients

So if you required extended pain management, relied on insurance to cover your medication costs, or simply just needed time to safely reduce your opioid use, you may have found yourself out in the cold. And when you are left without access to safe medications for pain care or withdrawal treatment for opioids, the consequences can be dire.

doctor writing prescription drugs

The CDC shares that misapplications of the 2016 guidelines have contributed to “patient harm, including untreated and undertreated pain, serious withdrawal symptoms, worsening pain outcomes, psychological distress, overdose, and suicidal ideation and behavior.” Recognizing the harm of these poorly utilized CDC guidelines, opioids and their applications have been reevaluated, and this may benefit you or a loved one.

2022 CDC Guidelines, Opioids, and You

As of 2022, there’s a new CDC guideline for prescribing opioids. The CDC now emphasizes patient-centered treatment rather than universal dosages and prescription lengths. And they still encourage education, pain management alternatives when applicable, and withdrawal treatment for opioids versus abruptly ending prescriptions or reducing dosages.

The CDC now emphasizes patient-centered treatment rather than universal dosages and prescription lengths.

These changes do not mean state laws and insurance policies will adjust as rapidly or with as much compassion, but the CDC is moving in the right direction in continuing to increase awareness of and understanding about opioids, addiction, and pain management.

Customized Pain Treatment and More

Just as the CDC recognizes no pain treatment is one size-fits-all, we take the same approach here at The Meadows. Our in-depth assessments allow us to customize treatment for each patient we see, allowing for personalized and quality care for you or your loved one’s addiction recovery. With our groundbreaking treatment model and research-backed therapies, we’re not only here to help those struggling with pain management and prescription drug addiction, but any kind of addiction or mental health condition, including relational and personal issues.

Reach out today to find out how we can help you break free from whatever is holding you back from health and happiness.