Addiction & Substance Overuse

New Guidelines on Prescribing Opioids

Editor’s Note: The abuse of prescription opioids is one of the most crucial public-health issues today. According to the latest statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in four non-cancer patients who are prescribed painkillers in a primary-care setting is addicted to drugs. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for opioid abuse. Given these statistics, the CDC came up with guidelines for prescribing opioids, advising physicians to limit their use. Here, from the CDC, is what you need to know about opioids and how to avoid ablusing them:

Living with chronic pain can be challenging. It is essential that you and your doctor discuss treatment options with all of the risks and benefits carefully considered. Some medications, such as prescription opioids, can help relieve pain in the short term but also come with serious risks and potential complications—and must be prescribed and used carefully

The new CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, addressed to doctors, helps inform providers’ ability to offer safer, more effective pain management and supports clinical decision making about prescribing opioids.

What are opioids?

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that reduce feelings of pain. Common prescription opioid pain relievers include:

Hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Oxymorphone (Opana)



Are opioids safe?

Prescription opioids can help with some types of pain in the short term but have serious risks. They can be an important part of treatment in some circumstances and can effectively relieve suffering for patients with active cancer or others in hospice or palliative care, but studies are not available to indicate whether opioids control chronic pain well when used long-term. Before taking opioid medication for your chronic pain:

Discuss pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription drugs.

Tell your doctor about past or current drug and alcohol use.

Discuss all of the risks and benefits of taking prescription opioids.

What are the risks from opioids?

Patients taking prescription opioids are at risk for unintentional overdose or death and can become addicted. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 persons died from overdose related to prescription opioids in the United States.

In addition to the serious risks of addiction and overdose, the use of prescription opioid pain relievers can have a number of side effects, even when taken as directed:

Tolerance—meaning you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief

Physical dependence—meaning you have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped

Increased sensitivity to pain


Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth

Sleepiness and dizziness



Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength

Itching and sweating

Remember, your doctor is a partner in your pain treatment plan. It’s important to talk about any and all side effects and concerns to make sure you’re getting the safest and most effective care.

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