CDC director on softening of opioid prescription guidelines

Health

(NewsNation) — In early November, the nation’s top public health agency softened its guidelines for U.S. doctors prescribing oxycodone and other opioid painkillers.

Dr. Christopher Jones, acting director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, weighed in on the agency’s decision on NewsNation’s “Prime.”

“This guideline provides an opportunity to update based on the latest science and the human story how best to approach pain care in the U.S.,” Jones said. “Sometimes that includes prescribing opioids.”

Jones said the CDC first put out guidelines around opioid prescribing in 2016. And at that time, according to Jones, the CDC indicated they would update the guidelines when new scientific information became available.

“What we’ve seen really since that time,” Jones said. “Is that the science of pain care how opioids work, where they’re effective, where non-opioid medications and where non-pharmacological treatments or non-medication treatments are effective, the science has advanced.”

Opioid painkillers can be addictive — even when used under doctors’ orders — and were identified as a big reason for a rise in U.S. drug overdoses that began more than two decades ago. 

Other drugs have overtaken opioid painkillers in overdose statistics, and illicit fentanyl is now the biggest driver of deaths.

The Hill White House columnist Niall Stanage characterized relaxing guidelines amid an explosion of fentanyl in America’s neighborhoods as a persistent problem.

“If there are substances or drugs that on one hand, are legitimately very effective painkillers for people suffering acute pain, and are also addictive and therefore dangerous? How do you navigate that? I think that’s a legitimately difficult question,” he said.

Stanage said the timing of the guideline change will contribute to the idea that there’s too much coziness between the drug industry and public health agencies.

“I think the optics are obviously rather difficult because it goes straight to the idea that public health bodies are too cozy with the pharmaceutical industry, if not in bed with it,” Stanage said.

Jones said the pharmaceutical industry had no input in the development of the guidelines.

“This was done through an open and transparent process where CDC experts engaged with outside scientific experts, as well as other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, who are experts in pain care as well as addiction,” Jones said.

The previous guidance succeeded in reducing inappropriate and dangerous prescribing, some experts say. But they also were seen as a barrier to care.

Jones said the guidelines really reserve opioids for when there is a clear-cut case that the patient is likely to benefit and that you’re paying attention to the potential risks.

“In many cases,” Jones said. “Non-opioid medications or non-medication treatments actually do better. And that’s one of the key messages that we’re trying to put out with the guideline.”

Watch the complete interview with Dr. Christopher Jones in the video player at the top of the page and the “Dangers of Fentanyl” segment from “Prime” with Niall Stanage in the video player below.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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