SALT LAKE CITY -- For the first time, the nation's top federal health agency urged doctors to avoid prescribing painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin for chronic pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in most cases the risks from opioids outweigh the benefits. Some argue it's about time the CDC caught up with the deadly prescription painkiller epidemic but others say this guideline will not put a stop to the public health crisis, only make things worse.
“More access means more potential harm,” said Angela Stander, Prescription Drug Overdose Coordinator with the Utah Department of Health.
With 290 opiate overdose deaths last year, Utah ranked fourth highest in the nation for prescription drug abuse in 2015.
“Even if you’re not the one being prescribed them the more that are being prescribed the more access everyone has to them whether that’s through sharing medication or stealing,” Stander said.
Nearly 20 years after drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin hit the medical world, the CDC is telling doctors to give the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time. But the new guidelines are just that, guidelines.
“A lot of it is still suggestions we can’t change any of their prescribing behaviors for best practices,” Stander said.
The state health department says the epidemic won't end overnight.
“As far as the time it takes to do risk assessments and more cautious in prescribing and the patient backlash that can cause providers,” Stander said.
With education and prevention, some believe things will improve. Others disagree and say without a safer, legal options things will only get worse.
“It may make it harder for them to get the narcotics regularly but it just pushes them to the streets faster,” said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.
Madsen sponsored Senate Bill 73, which supported medical marijuana. The bill failed to pass the legislature.
Madsen said opioid restrictions will only force people to get the drugs illegally and will not curb overdose deaths.
“What we have seen that bends the curve down substantially and consistently in 23 other states that have medical cannabis as an alternative for these patients that have opioid prescription issues. The opioid overdose deaths are down by 25 or 30 percent depending on the studies,” Madsen said.
The state says they will now look into the CDC's guidelines and how they can best implement them here.