Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated set of guidelines for prescribing opioids to patients suffering from chronic pain. Buried inside the language of the 37-page report, which is an attempt to put a leash on the prescription painkiller epidemic, the CDC urged doctors to modify their drug screening policies in an effort to prevent those testing positive for THC metabolites from being disqualified from treatment.
Although the guidelines say it’s still important to use urine tests to discover any undisclosed use of illicit substances it specifically states that this rule no longer applies to THC.
“Clinicians should not test for substances for which results would not affect patient management or for which implications for patient management are unclear,” reads the statement. “For example, experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).”
Though the guidelines won’t affect the majority of patients who see their doctor for temporary pain relief, patients who end up passing through the corridor from the family doctor to a pain management clinic are often held to a higher standard in order to continue receiving these medications. Typically these patients are required to test free of any illegal substances, including medical marijuana (whether they are a legal patient in their state or not), before being allowed to participate or continue in a pain treatment plan.
Testing for THC can lead to patient abandonemnt
However, the latest CDC guidelines suggest that this old philosophy leads to “stigmatization” and “inappropriate termination of care,” which inevitably creates additional hardships for those patients in need of these types of treatment programs.
“Clinicians should not dismiss patients from care based on a urine drug test result because this could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety, potentially including the patient obtaining opioids from alternative sources and the clinician missing opportunities to facilitate treatment for substance use disorder,” the CDC guidelines reads.
Interestingly, the latest guidelines for prescribing painkillers come just a month after Senator Elizabeth Warren fired off a letter to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden urging his agency to research the “effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.” The letter also asked the CDC to study “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”
You can read the new CDC guidelines below or click here to download a PDF version.