Chronic Pain: NPS and the CDC Guidelines Trending on Social Media, By: Celeste Cooper, RN

Chronic pain topics trending on social media have increased with the release of the National Pain Strategy (NPS) and the CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids. Having submitted comments on both drafts, I felt it was time to express my personal opinions. There are vast differences between the two, even though the “CDC Guidelines” are specifically mentioned at the conclusion of the NPS report.

CDC Opioid Checklist: The good, the bad, and the ugly 

Overall, the checklist is not difficult to understand and physicians will be more likely to use it. Where I do not comment, assume it to mean I don’t see any reason to mention it.

Good Stuff:

  • “For primary care providers treating adults.” – Primary care physicians need guidelines by government agencies so they do not fear retaliation by the DEA. Not all patients living with persistent pain require supervision by a pain specialist; in fact, there aren’t enough pain physicians to meet the needs of over 100 million Americans living with chronic pain.
  • “Known risk factors” – Important assessment.
  • Prescription drug monitoring program”  (eleven states do not have a PDMP) – You can read what I think about medication safety on my website. PDMPs are good for identifying signs of drug diversion or abuse, which protects responsible people, but will physicians who treat patients with conditions that cause chronic pain, i.e., pain physicians or rheumatologists be singled out? And, how will this affect patient care in states without a PDMP?
  • “Behavioral treatment” – This piece is often difficult for physicians to discuss with their patient’s, and vice versa. However, there is evidence that shows our behavioral response to pain makes a difference in our ability to cope and our pain intensity.
  • “Schedule initial reassessment within 1– 4 weeks.” – This should be done any time a new medication is started, including non-opioids that affect the central nervous system.
  • “Assessing pain and function using PEG scale” – This one gets a mixed review. Relieving pain, decreasing the intensity to improve quality of life is the reason we seek pain care, though quality of life should be assessed according to what that means for individual patients. For instance, a diseased spine or joint is not going to function better despite pain relief. Improving endurance cannot be achieved without therapies that help, therapies that are often capped by Medicare and are not based on patient outcome.

Bad Stuff

  • “Benefits of long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain not well supported by evidence.” – Describe evidence? Anecdotal reports from physicians who specialize in pain medicine are evidence (but they were not represented in the “Core Group” of experts). If they are referring to research, there is no evidence to suggest opioids don’t work for long-term pain care.
  • “Schedule reassessment at regular intervals (≤ 3 months)” – This guideline is not appropriate for patients who do not need advanced pain care. Patients requiring smaller doses of opioids for their pain may not have the ability to see the doctor this frequently for a variety of reasons. To put an absolute time interval (without cause) puts an unnecessary burden on the physician, patient, and insurance, including Medicare.
  • “Urine drug screens.” I am not against them when there are signs of abuse. However, using drug screens to assess risk without probable cause is offensive for several reasons: they are accusatory (guiltily until proven innocent), they are humiliating, they are not consistently accurate, and they are not always covered by insurance, which is discriminatory against folks who can’t pay or benefits will only cover tests that can give false results.

The Ugly

  • “NON-OPIOID THERAPIES Use alone or combined with opioids, as indicated:” – Suggesting long-term use of NSAIDs is not safe, and there is evidence to suggest this. Antidepressants are not without consequences; they have many drug-to-drug interactions and can lead to suicidal thoughts, they are not always a safer choice. Anticonvulsants are also abused because of euphoric effects and can have serious side effects like antidepressants. Non-opioid treatments should be considered, but the effects of alternate drugs should not be undermined.
  • “Calculate opioid dosage morphine milligram equivalent (MME).” Every patient is different. It is common sense to taper any drug or treatment to effect, but this particular issue could put a prescribing physician at risk of litigation.  (See Dr. Fudin’s opinions.)

The National Pain Strategy

“National Pain Strategy outlines actions for improving pain care in America

Plan seeks to reduce the burden and prevalence of pain and 

to improve the treatment of pain”

There are many things I agree with, some that I can tolerate, and others that I felt needed attention. The NPS did have representation by advocates during its draft, and we have all been waiting for it to be released. And, so it has been. You can see and overview and download the National Pain Strategy here.

“The Strategy provides opportunities for reducing the need for and over-reliance on prescription opioid medications;” this statement disturbs me. I believe the only way we can reduce the need for pain relief is to find a cure for scleroderma, complex regional pain syndrome, the effects of aging on the body, arthritis, fibromyalgia, EDS, myofascial pain syndrome, the centralization of pain, etc. Relieving pain is instinctive to all animals, including humans.

Not including all the stakeholders in the drafting of the CDC guidelines has many advocates and advocacy groups incensed, and rightly so. Public notice of the guidelines was made public for only 3 days. Only after being caught, did they allow our voice. But, despite pleas made by people far better equipped and knowledgeable (and unlike me, able to retain what they read), the CDC published them anyway. The total disregard for our government process – by, with, and for the people – is deplorable.

The CDC guidelines could have been done much better and would have been better received if our voices had been heard. And, it bothers me that the NPS overview ends with this statement, The goals of the National Pain Strategy can be achieved through a broad effort in which better pain care is provided, along with safer prescribing practices, such as those recommended in the recently released CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. I doubt many of those who helped draft the NPS were aware of these guidelines being drafted when they participated in the drafting of the NPS. Some of those same people are among those who tried to hold the CDC accountable for their lack of transparency. The CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines are not all bad, but they are written with a discriminatory tone, which is counter-productive to the Institute of Medicine’s report, Relieving Pain in America, available from my website here.

To me, it is more of the same and that’s really is a shame. A great opportunity has been squandered by lack of corroboration, something I value.

You can read my comments to the NPS and the CDC guidelines:

~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~

“Adversity is only an obstacle if we fail to see opportunity.”

Celeste Cooper, RN

Author—Patient—Health Central Chronic Pain Pro —Advocate

Celeste’s Website:

Learn more about what you can do to help your body function to its potential in the books you can find here on Celeste’s  blog. Subscribe to posts by using the information in the upper right hand corner or use the share buttons to share with others.

All answers and blogs are based on the author’s opinions and writing and are not meant to replace medical advice.



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