WASHINGTON — Prescription painkillers should not be a first choice for treating common ailments like back pain and arthritis, according to new federal guidelines designed to reshape how doctors prescribe drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin.
Amid an epidemic of addiction and abuse tied to these powerful opioids drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging primary care doctors to try physical therapy, exercise and over-the-counter pain medications before turning to painkillers for chronic pain. Opioid drugs include medications like morphine and oxycodone as well as illegal narcotics like heroin.
The new recommendations — which doctors do not have to follow — represent an effort to reverse nearly two decades of rising painkiller use, which public health officials blame for a more than four-fold increase in overdose deaths tied to the drugs. In 2014, U.S. 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.