Drug Overdose Deaths Continue To Rise In US, CDC Says

By Victoria Kim 12/18/15

The CDC has published new guidelines on prescribing opioid painkillers.

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The number of drug overdose deaths continues to rise in the United States. Last year, the number of overdose deaths surpassed 47,000, up 7% from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the cause of last year’s increase is yet to be officially determined by the CDC, it’s clear that America’s opioid abuse problem “is not getting better,” according to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.

Overdose deaths from legal opioid painkillers rose by 16% in 2014, accounting for 18,893 deaths. Heroin deaths rose by 28% to 10,574.

The number of fatal overdoses has been steadily rising for years. Compared with the most recent data in 2014, when there were 47,055 fatal overdoses, 16,849 fatal overdoses in 1999 seems drastically low.

On Monday, just days after the CDC reported the rise in drug overdose deaths, the agency released new guidelines on prescribing opioid painkillers. Its recommendations include using alternative methods to treat chronic pain like physical therapy and non-opioid analgesics before settling on powerful opioid medication.

The guidelines are a result of a review of more than 100 studies on opioid therapy by the CDC. They are not intended for doctors treating patients with severe chronic pain associated with diseases such as late-stage cancer or those providing end of life care.

If opioid medication is a necessity for a patient, the CDC recommends prescribing short-acting versions over extended-release and administering the lowest possible dose for the shortest duration. Since “long term opioid abuse often begins with treatment of acute pain,” the agency said “three or fewer days” of opioid treatment “usually will be sufficient for most non-traumatic pain not related to major surgery.”

Additional recommendations include using urine testing to monitor patients, preparing “strategies to mitigate risk,” and providing the overdose antidote naloxone to people with a history of substance abuse or overdose, or those who are on high doses of opioid medication.

The agency will allow a 30-day comment period before a panel reviews the recommendations.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr