The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines for prescribing opioids for pain to include people who are suffering from short-term pain.
During a briefing Thursday, the federal health agency said its new clinical practice recommendations are replacing guidelines from 2016 to make them more flexible.
"Pain affects the lives of millions of Americans and improving care for those living with pain is a public health imperative," Dr. Christopher Jones, acting director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told reporters during the briefing.
The 2016 guidelines focused almost exclusively on prescribing for patients who have chronic pain, described as pain that lasts longer than three months.
But the new guidelines include those suffering from acute pain, which last less than a month and can include pain following a minor surgery or a broken bone, and subacute pain, which lasts longer than a month but is not yet considered chronic.
"It's particularly important that the guidelines address this type of pain, as research shows that long-term opioid therapy often is initiated during this acute timeframe," Jones said.
Jones added that by updating the recommendations, Americans who suffer from pain may have improved quality of life and, hopefully, misuse of prescription opioids will decline.
The U.S. has been battling an opioid crisis for years as more Americans fatally overdose from the drugs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdose deaths hit record-highs. More than 100,000 people died from drugs from April 2020 to April 2021, according to the CDC.
That's a 29% increase from 2019 and equivalent to an American dying every five minutes, said the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The CDC says the first wave of the opioid overdose death crisis began in the 1990s, when people were dying after overuse of prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and methadone.
The second wave started in 2010 due to a sharp spike in overdose deaths due to heroin. The third wave began in 2013 with rates rising due to synthetic opioids, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl -- which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
"Actions related to the current state of the overdose crisis, which are very much driven by illicit synthetic opioids, like illicitly made fentanyl [and] resurgent methamphetamine, are not the aim of this guideline today," Jones said. "That work is happening across the government as a whole-of-government approach, including work from CDC to support our state and local partners."
He continued, "I don't think it's an either/or. I think we can pursue both of those at the same time."
In addition, the guidelines have been updated to explicitly advise against the abrupt discontinuation or reduction of opioid use.
"There are very real harms, and we try to highlight that in the guidelines," Jones said. "So things like mental health crises, suicidal ideation or behavior, psychological distress, and potentially even for some people seeking out opioids through other markets like illicit markets in order to stave off withdrawal or to supplement if they're at too low of a dose."