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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to make it clear: its guideline on the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain is not intended to apply to pain related to cancer treatment, palliative care, or end-of-life care. The clarification is consistent with messaging used by APTA in its #ChoosePT opioid awareness campaign and its MoveForwardPT.com consumer-focused website.

In a February 28, 2019, letter from CDC Chief Medical Officer Deborah Dowell, MD, MPH, the agency restates its intentions around the prescribing guideline, issued in 2016, that recommends nonopioid approaches including physical therapy as a preferred first-line treatment for some—but not all—types of chronic pain.

"The Guideline was developed to provide recommendations for primary care physicians who prescribe opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care," Dowell writes. "Because of the unique therapeutic goals, and balance of risks and benefits with opioid therapy in such care, clinical practice guidelines specific to cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care should be used to guide treatment and reimbursement decisions regarding use of opioids as part of pain control in these circumstances."

The letter was written in response to concerns voiced by the National Comprehensive Care Network, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the American Society of Hematology that some payers were balking on paying for opioid prescriptions in circumstances outside the scope of the CDC guidelines.

Even without the clarification, the original guideline is explicit in its intent, which appears in the first sentence of the document and again when the CDC describes the scope of the guideline and intended audience. Similarly, APTA makes it clear that doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases and has included that message in both its #ChoosePT webpage and its public service announcement related to the opioid crisis.

"The Guideline is not intended to deny any patients who suffer with chronic pain from opioid therapy as an option for pain management," Dowell writes. "Rather, the Guideline is intended to ensure that clinicians and patients consider all safe and effective treatment options."


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