Since 2000, the rate of deaths from opioid overdoses has increased 200 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates that approximately 40 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses.
Recognizing this growing problem, the CDC recently released new guidelines urging physicians to avoid prescribing opioid painkillers for chronic pain, noting the risks of these drugs outweigh the benefits for most patients. These guidelines are aimed at primary care physicians, who prescribe nearly half of opioids, and do not apply to physicians treating patients with cancer or end-of-life care.
Instead of opioids, the CDC encourages physicians to prescribe other treatments like exercise, physical therapy and meditation. Studies have found that these methods often work better than opioids for the vast majority of people with chronic back pain.
In addition, in March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will now be requiring a “black box” warning on painkillers highlighting the risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death. These warnings will be for fast-acting or immediate-release versions of opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The “black box” warning aims to teach doctors about the risks of prescribing opioids. The FDA also encourages pharmacists to provide patients with a medication guide for opioids that clearly explains the risks of these drugs, so patients can make more informed choices about their health.