- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society has introduced new guidelines for prescribing opioids to residents of the state with a focus on injured athletes.

Gov. Tom Wolf was at UPMC Montefiore in Pittsburgh on Thursday for the announcement of the new standards, which were designed to curb abuse of the powerful painkillers, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/2mznEDG ).

As an alternative to opioids, the guidelines call for exercise, acupuncture and non-opioid medication to treat pain.

The state’s association of orthopedic doctors also believes athletes with injuries severe enough to consider opioid treatment shouldn’t be eligible to return to the field of play. Athletic programs are advised to develop a written policy on opioids, as recommended by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“Opioids are very important medicines, but they can be over-utilized,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s physician general. “There are too many people with minor injuries who are getting longer prescriptions for opioids. We have student-athletes who are getting longer prescriptions for opioids.”

More than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died of drug overdoses in 2015 - a sharp increase from the previous year. Statistics for 2016 are not yet available, but another increase is expected.

“This is a really important issue,” said Wolf, a Democrat. “I’m not sure there is anyone in Pennsylvania who hasn’t known someone with an opioid addiction.”

Also in attendance for the unveiling of the guidelines were several of the state’s leading doctors as well as Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris, who has recently become an advocate for medical marijuana.

“This is affecting everyone everywhere, and all of us have to be concerned,” the Hall of Fame running back said.

Dr. Patrick Smith, the society’s president, said his organization wants the state’s doctors to take more of a thoughtful approach to providing pain relief to patients.

The guidelines, which can be viewed at www.health.pa.gov, are recommendations for orthopedic surgeons but are not required to be followed.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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