Regional News

State health officials announce revised guideline for prescribing narcotics ? public comments period begins

Apr 22, 2015

State health leaders have issued a revised guideline on pain management. The draft document includes updated recommendations on the use of prescription narcotics, or opioids, as well as non-opioid options.

Sponsored by the Washington State Agency Medical Directors’ Group, the guideline was developed in collaboration with practicing physicians and researchers who specialize in pain management. People can review and comment on the proposed guideline through May 1, 2015 at

“The updated guideline continues our state’s efforts to improve the health care of patients with pain,” said state Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy of the Washington Department of Health. “Opioid medications can make a real difference for the people who need them, yet they can also be addictive, cause permanent disability, and even death. The guideline includes the latest information to help health care providers treat pain more effectively and safely.”

The U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of overdoses from prescription pain medication. Prescriptions for pain medication have quadrupled since 1999, and overdose deaths increased similarly. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people die every day in the U.S. from an overdose of prescription painkillers.

In Washington in 2008, at the height of the epidemic, 512 people died of unintentional overdoses involving prescription pain medications. Since then, according to the state Department of Health, Washington’s death rate from unintentional overdoses has declined by 27 percent, yet it remains twelve times higher than it was in 1995.

The new guideline from the state medical directors is more comprehensive than past editions; it includes sections on all phases of pain. For the first time as part of a major guideline, health care providers will find guidance on treating pain in special populations - cancer survivors, older adults, pregnant women, and young people experiencing pain unrelated to cancer.

The guideline will supplement Department of Health pain management rules that took effect in 2011 and 2012. Those rules require health care providers to use best practices when prescribing opioid medications. In keeping with the rules, the new guideline does not apply to pain treatment during active cancer or end-of-life (hospice) care.

The guideline will be featured at a conference for health care providers on Friday, June 12 in Seattle. The fee is $50 and participants can earn continuing education credits. You can register at or learn more at

The Agency Medical Directors’ Group includes medical directors from the departments of Health, Corrections, Health Care Authority, Labor & Industries, and Veteran Affairs as well as representatives from the Board of Health and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Community members can find more information and resources at the Department of Health’s Take as Directed webpage.


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