CDC Releases Voluntary Opioid Prescribing Guidelines

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2016

On March 15, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain – United States, 2016. The final guideline includes 12 recommendations and is intended for use by primary care clinicians in outpatient settings who are prescribing opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment and palliative care. This guideline is voluntary.

The recommendations fall into three broad categories:

  1. Determining when to initiate or continue opioids for chronic pain
  2. Opioid selection, dosage, duration, follow-up and discontinuation
  3. Assessing risk and harms of opioid use

CDC received more than 4,300 comments regarding the draft guideline during a public comment period earlier this year. After a review of the guideline by physicians on the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s (PAMED) Opioid Advisory Taskforce, PAMED submitted a letter commenting on the draft.

The final CDC guideline remains largely unchanged from the draft version; however, some slight alterations were made. Mostly notably, the language included in the opioid dosage recommendation was tweaked to give some additional deference to the clinical judgment of the prescriber.

In a conference call with the media, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, admitted that the research on chronic pain is “not as robust as we'd like,” but he emphasized the critical need to address the opioid crisis across the country. In recognition of the complexity involved in prescribing opioids, Frieden noted that the CDC guideline “is not a cookbook.”

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