Revised CDC Guidance for Prescribing Opioids Emphasizes Physician Judgment, Reflects Concerns About Misapplication of Earlier Guidance

Conscientious medical suppliers face troublesome tradeoffs when deciding whether or not to prescribe opioid drugs to deal with sufferers with continual ache. For sufferers who’ve failed different therapies, opioids can provide highly effective ache reduction and restore high quality of life. However these medication include substantial and well-documented regulatory and patient-safety dangers as a result of of their potential for abuse.

On February 10, 2022, the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention (CDC) printed in draft form a revised model of its Medical Apply Guideline for Prescribing Opioids, and requested public feedback. As soon as finalized, the 2022 Guideline will change the CDC’s 2016 Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Persistent Ache, which many commentators argue is medical steerage that has been misapplied and misunderstood to be regulatory dictates.

The CDC’s draft steerage strikes away from urged dosage ranges (which regulators have closely relied on for enforcement functions) and emphasizes supplier discretion when balancing the advantages and dangers of opioids. An method grounded in recognition of the necessity for supplier discretion in drugs will definitely have implications for healthcare enforcement actions that search to query the reasonableness of medical selections.

Criticism of the 2016 Guideline

The CDC’s draft 2022 Guideline arrived within the wake of widespread confusion relating to the intent and implications of the CDC’s 2016 Guideline. Maybe essentially the most often commented-upon problem was the right software of the CDC’s most beneficial dose of 90mg MME (morphine milligram equal items) for main care and common practitioners. Certainly, within the years after the CDC issued the 2016 Guideline, many regulators, prosecutors and courts have insisted that the CDC’s steerage set out limits or caps as to dosage, above which prescriptions have been presumed to be improper and even unlawful.

The issues over the position of the practitioner pointers in enforcement actions are effectively based. For instance, in June 2018, the Workplace of Inspector Common (OIG), printed a report primarily based on the 2016 Guideline wherein it recognized virtually 300 prescribers that OIG believed required additional investigation as a result of of their sample of prescribing opioids. [1] Likewise, on November 19, 2021, the US District Courtroom for the District of Maryland completely enjoined a doctor assistant from prescribing opioids, in addition to different managed substances, as a result of the doctor assistant prescribed opioids to sufferers above the 90 MME dosage beneficial by the 2016 Guideline. [2] In the same case, two medical doctors from Tennessee pled responsible to illegal distribution of a managed substance for prescribing opioids at doses that exceeded the 2016 Guideline. [3] On October 4, 2021, the federal government reached a civil settlement with Olive Avenue Pharmacy and its proprietor in reference to allegations of violating the False Claims Act and the Managed Substances Act for meting out prescriptions of opioids in dosage quantities that exceeded the CDC’s suggestions, amongst different claims. [4]

The American Medical Affiliation (AMA), which typically supported adoption of the 2016 Guideline, later adopted resolutions “that call[ed] for restraint in implementing the CDC guideline—particularly as it applies to the agency’s maximum recommended dose of 90mg MME. . . .” [5] One AMA decision emphasised that sufferers can profit from taking the next dosage than that beneficial by the CDC and that “AMA advocate[s] that no entity should use MME thresholds as anything more than guidance, and physicians should not be subject to professional discipline, loss of board certification, loss of clinical privileges, criminal prosecution, civil liability, or other penalties or practice limitations solely for prescribing opioids at a quantitative level above the MME thresholds” discovered within the 2016 Guideline. [6]

Draft 2022 Guideline for Prescribing Opioids Suggests Extra Deference to Physicians

The draft 2022 Guideline addresses many of the problems raised in criticism of the 2016 Guideline. The 2022 Guideline emphatically rejects any suggestion that its steerage is necessary. In its request for public feedback, the CDC emphasizes that “[t]his voluntary clinical practice guideline provides recommendations and does not require mandatory compliance; and the clinical practice guideline is intended to be flexible so as to support, not supplant, clinical judgment and individualized, patient-centered decision-making.” [7] Likewise, “[t]his clinical practice guideline is not intended to be applied as inflexible standards of care across patient populations by healthcare professionals, health systems, third-party payers, organizations, or governmental jurisdictions.” [8]

From a regulatory perspective, an important change within the 2022 Guideline is probably going the removing of language suggesting that primary-care physicians ought to “avoid increasing dosage” to 90 MME per day. The 2022 Guideline notes that “[t]hough not the intent of the 2016 CDC Guideline, design and implementation of new laws, regulations, and policies also drew from its recommendations.” [9] Whereas these legal guidelines and rules “might have had positive results for some patients, a central tenet of the 2016 CDC Guideline was that the recommendations are voluntary and are intended to be flexible to support, not supplant, individualized, patient-centered care… Such misapplication includes… rigid application of opioid dosage thresholds [and] patient dismissal and abandonment.” [10]

The revised CDC steerage additionally underscores issues about penalizing good-faith prescribing. Critics have accused the federal government of “us[ing] legal ambiguity for tactical advantage” and famous that the federal government “will not readily clarify lines it expects doctors to follow at their peril.” [11] The strict enforcement of a voluntary guideline presents a due course of concern for physicians as a result of it doesn’t present clear discover as to what conduct would topic them to legal responsibility—even legal legal responsibility. The revised 2022 Guideline seems to counsel extra deference to physicians. Certainly, the CDC states expressly that “[t]he Guideline should not be used by payers and health systems to set rigid standards related to dose or duration of opioid therapy.” [12]

Practices and company entities that make use of or credential suppliers who prescribe opioids ought to proceed to trace these developments. These entities—and the suppliers themselves—will proceed to face troublesome decisions and tensions in guaranteeing that sufferers have entry to acceptable medical care whereas managing the bundle of dangers—together with patient-safety and regulatory dangers related to opioid therapies. Considerate insurance policies and practices for opioid prescribing have to be provider-driven and centered on balancing the dangers of opioids with the wants and circumstances of particular person sufferers.


Healthcare organizations face a posh array of evolving rules, steerage and case regulation. Staying abreast of the most recent developments will help these organizations keep a sturdy compliance program, reduce danger, and pursue their mission.

  1. Opioid Use in Medicare Half D Stays Regarding, US Division of Well being & Human Providers, Workplace of Inspector Common (June 2018),

  2. Federal Courtroom Enjoins Maryland Physician Assistant from Prescribing Opioids and Different Managed Substances, DOJ Justice Information (Nov. 19, 2021)….

  3. Two East Tennessee Medical doctors Plead Responsible to Opioid Offenses, DOJ Justice Information (Oct. 18, 2019)….

  4. Creve Coeur pharmacy and proprietor conform to pay $1,507,808.50 to resolve lawsuit alleging meting out of managed substances with no professional medical function, DOJ Information (Oct. 4, 2021),

  5. See Pat Anson, AMA: ‘Inappropriate Use’ of CDC Guideline Ought to Cease, Ache Information Community (Nov. 14, 2018),

  6. Id.

  7. Proposed 2022 CDC Medical Apply Guideline for Prescribing Opioids, Federal Register (Feb. 10, 2022),….

  8. Id. (emphasis in unique).

  9. CDC Medical Apply Guideline for Prescribing Opioids–United States, 2022, (Feb. 10, 2022) at 11,

  10. Id. at 12.

  11. Julia B. MacDonald, “Do No Harm or Injustice to Them”: Indicting and Convicting Physicians for Managed Substance Distribution within the Age of the Opioid Disaster, 72 Me. L. Rev. 197, 220 (2020),… (quoting Harvey Silverglate, When Treating Ache Brings a Legal Indictment, The Wall Avenue J. (June 12, 2015),

  12. Draft CDC Medical Apply Guideline for Prescribing Opioids – United States, 2022: Overview of Group Engagement and Public Remark Alternatives, (Feb. 10, 2022),

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