CDC Instructs Doctors to Stop Testing Pain Patients for Marijuana

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted their guidelines to encourage doctors to stop testing patients for marijuana as it can lead to “stigmatization” and “inappropriate termination of care.”

In an attempt to prevent patients from being denied treatment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging doctors not to test pain patients on opioids for marijuana. Earlier this month, the CDC released an updated set of guidelines for medical professionals who prescribe opioids to patients with chronic pain. Within those guidelines is language encouraging doctors to not test patients for cannabis since a positive test could disqualify them from continued pain management treatment.

“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 new guideline. “For example, experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).”

“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 guidelines read.

The CDC is also concerned that, if those suffering from pain are disqualified from treatment because of a positive marijuana test, they will try to ease their pain with opioids from the black market. Without a medical professional’s guidance, a patient will be more likely to unknowingly abuse opioids, which will significantly increase the risk of becoming physically dependent and overdosing.

Added Benefit of CDC’s Updated Guidelines: Cannabis’ Impact on the Opioid Crisis

Opioid prescriptions in the United States have quadrupled since 1994. They’re commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain but carry a significant risk of addiction, abuse, overdose and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” The United States is facing a preventable epidemic of prescription medication abuse. In response, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced a new requirement that opioids must carry black-box warnings so that doctors and patients are fully aware of the risks.

Cannabis has been proven to be highly effective for managing pain, so users require fewer opioid-based painkillers to ease their discomfort. Recent studies have also shown that chronic pain patients who use medical marijuana use significantly fewer prescription opioids, thereby reducing their risk of abuse or overdose. In addition, patients using cannabis to relieve pain experience fewer side effects from their prescription medications and report a significant increase in their quality of life.

Studies have also found that the number of opioid overdoses are significantly lower in states with medical marijuana legislation. A 2014 report published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that medical marijuana states have 25 percent fewer prescription painkiller deaths, meaning the availability of medical cannabis correlates to a decreased risk of opioid abuse.

Since 1996, 23 states and Washington D.C. have adopted medical marijuana legislation. With even more states expected to pass legislation through voter-approved initiatives this November, our national epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction could see relief by the end of the year.

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