In spite of the recent reports showing dangerous abuse of prescription painkillers, a bold federal effort faces great resistance from industry-funded groups, drugmakers, and even public health officials.
- Opioid abuse has increased four-fold since 1999
- The CDC has proposed a set of guidelines that would reverse the overuse
- The agency hopes to reshape the way physicians prescribe strong painkillers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was finally on track to issue new prescribing guidelines for opioid painkillers in a couple of weeks.
Even though the new recommendations would not be binding, they would be the government’s most prominent effort yet to curb the rate of deadly overdoses with Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.
It is admittedly unusual for the CDC to advise physicians on medications, a job that is usually assigned to the Food and Drug Administration. However, the agency’s involvement reignited the spark if the longstanding fight over the use of opioids.
According to IMS Health, opioids are a strong but highly addictive class of pain medications, and they brought in about $9 billion in sales last year. Critics argued the CDC guidelines have crossed a limit and were written mostly behind closed doors.
After one advocacy group threatened to sue, it was time for FDA officials and other health agencies to speak up their mind. Surprisingly, the meeting of pain experts ended up bashing the guidelines, calling them “shortsighted” and relying on “low-quality evidence.”
A week later, the CDC announced it was abandoning its January target date; instead, the guidelines will be opened to public comment for 30 days and accept additional changes. Anti-addiction activists are worried about what this delay could do to the fate of the much-needed guidelines.
In spite of the negative comments released by some officials, Frieden said the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services both acknowledge the critical role of the guidelines in “tackling the opioid epidemic.”
The evidence is limited, said Frieden, but waiting for better evidence to come along while so many people are dying would be completely pointless. According to the proposed guidelines, these drugs could be prescribed by doctors only as a last choice for chronic pain.
The CDC hopes to reshape the way primary care doctors use painkillers, something that would lead to fewer prescriptions and, therefore, fewer fatalities. The reports say that a four-fold surge in deaths related to these drugs has been registered since 1999.
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