An example of aprescribed opioid | Courtesy of the FDA

HUNTINGTON – With more than 26 overdoses in a four-hour time period in Huntington, a letter co-authored by one of West Virginia's U.S. senators urging guidelines for prescribing opioids for acute pain is timely.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), along with her colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) sent the letter to President Obama and his administration asking that guidelines be developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for prescribing opioids for acute pain, as this is when many individuals become addicted to painkillers.

While guidelines are in place for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, nothing directs how acute pain should be dealt with. Capito and Gillibrand introduced the Preventing Overprescribing for Pain Act, which would require the CDC to develop guidelines.

“Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is focused primarily on opioid prescribing guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain,” Capito told The West Virginia Record. “While this is a positive step, there is also a significant need for guidelines for the treatment of acute pain. Many people with no history of drug use become addicted to opioids after taking prescriptions for acute pain, such as a broken bone, wisdom tooth extraction or other surgery. The patient may go home with 50 pills, when they only need a few days’ worth of medication, and friends or family members may misuse the extra medication left unguarded in a medicine cabinet. Overprescribing of opioids is one of the main causes of the growing drug epidemic, and many individuals who become addicted to prescription opioids are turning to heroin use.”

The need for the guidelines seems especially relevant for West Virginia's Capito, who represents a state that has seen a surge in overdoses from heroin, with 26 overdoses occurring in a four-hour time span. While eight of the victims survived, ambulances struggled to keep up with the calls that are suspected to be from a bad batch of heroin supplied in the area around one apartment complex in Huntington.

Heroin is often the next source of drug abuse after receiving painkillers, which Capito is fighting against.

“Curbing the devastating drug epidemic will require a spectrum of solutions, and establishing guidelines for the safe prescribing of opioids for acute pain is one of them,” Capito said. “I will continue doing everything in my power to fight the drug crisis and prevent future cases of drug abuse and addiction.”

In order for the CDC to develop guidelines directing how opioids should be administered, it doesn’t need an act of Congress, and Capito and Gillibrand are asking for the support from Obama and his administration. In their letter to the president they claim 2 million Americans are suffering from an opioid disorder, making it critical that “prescribers thoughtfully and responsibility prescribe these powerful narcotics.”

They ask that the guidelines recognize that painkillers for acute pain are often overprescribed when only a few pills may be all that is needed for pain relief, starting an addiction to the medication that can lead to use of illicit drugs such as heroin.

Capito and Gillibrand are hoping that Congress will pass the Preventing Overprescribing for Pain Act as part of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. If it doesn’t pass, the CDC can still enact the guidelines on this measure, and they have asked the Obama administration to take the initiative to administer the authority to address the epidemic.

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