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U.S. Says Opioid Cutbacks Have Harmed Pain Patients

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To fight the opioid epidemic, U.S. doctors cut prescriptions of medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet by at least a quarter over the last five years. The reduction in prescriptions came at a cost to some pain patients, Stateline reports. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have warned prescribers that abruptly cutting off high-dose patients or tapering their doses too rapidly could cause withdrawal and even suicide. The new recommendations likely will prompt states to consider adjusting opioid prescribing laws, said Karmen Hanson of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Because the federal clarifications came near the end of legislative sessions for most states, no actions are likely this year. More than half of states enacted laws restricting painkiller prescriptions after federal guidance urged such limits, but the agencies say that advice may have been misinterpreted or taken too far.

The FDA last month said it had received reports of patients taken off their pain medicines who were suffering “serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain, psychological distress and suicide.” Likewise, the CDC — which in 2016 recommended prescribing limits for opioid painkillers — said it had received reports that some prescribers were too rigidly adhering to its dosage guidelines and had misapplied the limits to patients already on high doses of opioids. The CDC’s clarification came in response to a March letter from a group of more than 300 physicians known as Health Professionals for Patients in Pain. They reported that the suggested daily dosage limits had been widely misapplied by doctors, insurers and pharmacists as well as by entire health care systems. The group, which includes three former U.S. drug czars, said “patients have endured not only unnecessary suffering, but some have turned to suicide or illicit substance use,” because of misapplied CDC guidelines.

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