Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on how opioids are prescribed for pain.
Dr. Stefan Kertesz, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor who studies addiction, said there are some differences from the last update in 2016.
The guidance now covers almost all outpatient pain instead of just focusing on chronic pain. There's less emphasis on how high a dosage can be, allowing for more individualized care.
There are more details on the risk of reducing a dose for a patient with a long-term opioid prescription.
“They also include the idea that if they do poorly, then you reduce the dose, you could reverse that taper, and that's a big deal because many doctors were previously taught to never reverse a taper,” Kertesz said. “Even if what they were doing was causing the patient to die, which is a crazy, ethical situation, but one that we continue to see to this very day.
Kertesz is part of a group of doctors and scientists who study and treat addiction and have been petitioning the CDC to make changes like this.
He says the updated guidance is a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.
As a patient, it can be a reminder to ask important questions.
“When I get this surgery, do I need opioids?” Kertesz said. “How many days would I need them for? What's the risk to me? The other thing is for a growing population of Americans who are now on a medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder, which is called a buprenorphine, and various versions of that, you have to bring that up.”
Data from the CDC shows the rate opioids are being prescribed, is decreasing. Doctors say legal pressure and high overdose numbers may have played a role in that. But it likely isn’t what pushed the CDC to make its latest changes. Guidance typically gets updated every 3 to 5 years.