Opioids can be a vital medication for improving the health outcomes and quality of life of people suffering from cancer-related pain. However, in the face of a nationwide opioid epidemic, nearly two thirds of U.S. cancer patients report facing stigma for taking them, and one in four patients said worries about stigma caused them to change their behavior-notably, by taking less pain medication than prescribed, according to MedPage Today.

In an effort to combat misperceptions on the matter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week clarified its guidance for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, stating that its intent was not to deny clinically appropriate opioid therapy for patients with cancer, cancer survivors and people with sickle cell disease.

Issued in a letter to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the clarification comes as a result of a collaborative effort by these organizations to help people who need opioids for legitimate pain management get the treatment they deserve. It notes that the CDC’s initial guideline was developed to provide recommendations for primary care providers who prescribe opioids for chronic pain patients outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care or end-of-life care.

In the letter, the CDC also nods to more recent clinical practice guidelines addressing pain management for cancer survivors by ASCO and the NCCN, stating that providers should consider their guidance when prescribing opioids to cancer patients for the management of pain without worsening the current opioid crisis.

“The clarification from CDC is critically important because, while the agency’s guideline clearly states that it is not intended to apply to patients during active cancer and sickle cell disease treatment, many payers have been inappropriately using it to make opioid coverage determinations for those exact populations,” said ASCO chief executive officer Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO, in a recent press release about the clarification.

The news follows reviews identifying what appeared to be inconsistencies among various groups’ existing guidelines on opioids and chronic pain, which noted that such discrepancies could be causing confusion in the health care community, explained ASCo in the press release. In November 2018, ASCO, ASH, NCCN and the CDC met to discuss the issue to develop the strategy that led to the issuance of the new guidance.

To learn more about cancer treatment and chronic pain, click here.