Doctors should limit prescribing opioids, commonly used as a strong painkiller, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends in a set of guidelines for U.S. physicians published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine are often prescribed to patients with chronic pain, but can lead to addiction and even death due to overdose.
The CDC recommends non-opioid therapy, including exercise and over-the-counter pain medications, as the preferred treatment for chronic pain. It says opioids should only be prescribed — at the lowest effective dosage possible — when the benefits from pain reduction and bodily function outweigh the risks.
The CDC's new guidelines represent an effort to reverse nearly two decades of rising opioid use.
Risks 'far outweigh' benefits
In 2014, American doctors wrote nearly 200 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, while deaths linked to the drugs climbed to roughly 19,000 — the highest number on record.
The number of Canadians who die every year from opioids is not readily known — the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse does not track the statistics — but Toronto physician Nav Persaud told CBC News in 2014 that more than 1,000 Canadians die from painkillers every year.
A 2012 study says one in eight deaths among young adults age 25 to 34 in Ontario and one out of every 170 deaths in the province as a whole are opioid overdoses.
One in four people who entered a withdrawal management program at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., were opioid patients in 2012, up from one in ten in 2002.
Other studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of opioids on chronic pain, raising questions on whether its limited long-term effects are worth the harmful risks.
"The science is clear," CDC director Tom Frieden said Tuesday. "For the vast majority of patients, the known and often fatal risks [of opioids] far outweigh the proven and transient benefits."