CDC: Opioids OK for People With Cancer and Sickle Cell Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has clarified its 2016 guidelines for opioid prescription, stating that the recommendations were not intended to deny the pain medications to patients with cancer- or sickle cell disease–related pain.

Three years ago, the CDC issued the guidelines in response to the growing opioid epidemic; it asked primary-care clinicians to rein in prescriptions for inappropriate conditions. However, some health insurers took a broader interpretation of the recommendations and have refused to pay for prescriptions for patients with cancer or sickle cell disease (SCD) who have acute or chronic pain.

With this update, the CDC stressed that opioids are considered appropriate for patients with these conditions and conveyed that the guidelines were never intended to deny clinically appropriate coverage for people with chronic pain.

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) applauded this clarification, which it had requested from the CDC in a letter co-signed by representatives from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“People with SCD suffer from severe, chronic pain, which is debilitating on its own without the added burden of having to constantly appeal to the insurance companies every time a pain crisis hits and the initial request is denied,” said 2019 ASH President Roy Silverstein, MD, in a press release. “We appreciate the CDC’s acknowledgement that the challenges of managing severe and chronic pain in conditions such as SCD require special consideration, and we hope payers will take the CDC’s clarification into account to ensure that patients’ pain management needs are covered.”

Sources: STAT, April 9, 2019; ASH press release, April 9, 2019.