Contagious Conversations: Prevention vs. Prescription: The Question About Opioids


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths in the United States increased by nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020 and have quintupled since 1999. These staggering statistics represent an opioid overdose epidemic in our country. In the latest episode of our Contagious Conversations podcast, we explore the challenges physicians face in treating people living with pain in light of this epidemic and the steps CDC is taking to address this challenge.  

I was joined for this episode by Dr. Chris Jones, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Dr. Jones' career in public health includes leadership and advisory roles at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications on the topics of substance use, drug overdose, adverse childhood experiences and mental health.  

In 2016, CDC released a set of opioid guidelines that contributed to some laws restricting doctor and pharmacy practices. Then in November 2022, CDC released an updated set of guidelines encouraging physicians to focus more on the individual needs of their patients when it comes to opioid treatment.  

“One of the things that we really tried to highlight in the 2022 guideline is that opioids do have a role to play in pain care,” Dr. Jones said, adding that the guidelines also note other approaches doctors can take to treat pain sufferers. 

Though the scale of the opioid overdose death pandemic is daunting, Dr. Jones explained that opportunities to effectively address the challenge do exist. “I think for me, it does get back to collaboration and that there is a shared commitment and recognition that this is an issue that is not on the margins of society,” Dr. Jones said. “Everybody knows somebody who has been touched by this issue. And I think we've seen over the last several years in particular, embracing people who have walked that path, people with lived experience, people in recovery.” 

I encourage everyone to listen to this episode and learn more about this important issue that affects millions of Americans, and the steps CDC is taking to address existing challenges. 

Judy Monroe
Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.