It is an unfortunate truth that for a while, prescription opioids became the cheapest and easiest means to obtain all opioids, whether for legitimate treatment of pain or to support an addiction. A lot of people became dependent on opioids through doctors’ prescriptions, and we now realize that opioids for chronic pain helped very few people over the long term. In addition, surplus prescription opioids were easily taken up by people seeking to use opioids illicitly.
New guidelines appropriately recommend caution when prescribing opioids because they have time- and dose-limited benefit, and in the long run, risks vastly outweigh benefits. But the solution to this problem is not to loosen restraints on opioid prescribing, which is what got us into this trouble to start with. We need to support patients to taper off opioids. And we need to offer safer medications such as buprenorphine (Suboxone) to patients who cannot taper off.
This is not the time to blame doctors’ newfound vigilance regarding opioid prescribing, which is a necessary pathway toward improving pain management and reversing the opioid epidemic.
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Jane C. Ballantyne, M.D.; Mark D. Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D.; David J. Tauben, M.D., University of Washington, Seattle, Division of Pain Medicine