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CDC: Stop prescribing painkillers

Posted at 4:35 PM, May 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 16:28:17-04
Addiction to prescription pain killers has become an epidemic in the United States.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of people who have died from overdosing on these drugs has more than tripled in last 20 years. 
"These drugs are inherently addictive," said Dr. Jerome Lerner, the director of the Pain Recovery Program at Sierra Tucson, a residential treatment center on the northwest side.
He says patients will often become tolerant of pain killers, requiring a higher and higher dosage. 
"They're habit forming and even though they may be prescribed and being used just as the doctor orders, when you get to a certain dosage or certain frequency your body is going to develop a dependency," said Lerner.
That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidelines for prescription opiates, drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.
The new guidelines say doctors should stop prescribing pain killers to treat chronic pain as there's no good evidence that it actually works. Instead the CDC recommends treating chronic pain with over the counter medicine like ibuprofen and using alternative non-drug therapies. 
"We have an interdisciplinary program where we treat the pain with a really strong physical restoration program, physical therapy, personal training," said Lerner. "We do the psychological work of coping with pain, dealing with depression and anxiety and other underlying issues. We look for substance abuse disorders and we work with them."
Part of the opiate addiction problem in the U.S. can be attributed to an increase in prescriptions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, written prescriptions for pain killers have increased from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, a jump of more than 170 percent. 
"It's scary and the people we see here often have overdosed but fortunately have survived that," said Lerner. "The risk of death is large with these medications and grows further if they're combined with other sedating medication or alcohol."

Despite the growing numbers and new guidelines, Lerner says recovering from opiate addiction and chronic pain is not hopeless. 
"There are many other strategies, mental health strategies physical therapy, alternative strategies that really make a difference," he said. "When we put it all together and we figure out all the things that are kind of complicating recovery, people really do get better."