By now we’ve all seen the stories and heard the statistics. Thousands of our sons, daughters, mothers and fathers are dying every year from addiction to prescription pain pills and heroin. This is a disease like any other – and just like the fight to cure cancer and Alzheimer’s, we need to commit ourselves to fighting addiction.

As a former governor and U.S. health secretary, I am all too familiar with how this disease is ravaging families across the country – in cities and in rural areas, in blue states and red states. Addiction does not discriminate.

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It’s getting worse. Here are the facts: in 1999, 6,000 Americans died from overdoses of a class of drugs called opioids – which include both prescription painkillers and heroin. By 2014, that number ballooned to nearly 30,000. Doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids in 2012 – triple the number of prescriptions in 1999. That’s enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle in their medicine cabinet. These painkillers are a gateway drug to heroin – four out of five of those addicted to heroin get started with opioid painkillers.

Let’s be clear – I’m not blaming the doctors who write these prescriptions. The problem is that there are no national guidelines based on recent research for when opioids should be prescribed, in what dosage, or for how long. Doctors want guidance – especially the primary care physicians who are on the front lines treating patients with chronic pain. Thankfully, the Centers for Disease Control has been trying to do just that. And in a recent survey, 87 percent of doctors said they support and would welcome these guidelines.

After reviewing all the available evidence, experts at the CDC drafted a new set of voluntary guidelines – not rules – written and ready for final issuance. They include common-sense ideas like educating the patient about the risk of addiction and encouraging them to try non-pharmaceutical treatment options before turning to painkillers. If a doctor does decide opioids are necessary, the guidelines suggest starting with a low dosage and a short-term prescription. Physicians are also encouraged to take steps to determine whether a patient has already been prescribed an opioid painkiller by another doctor – a common sign of addiction.

The CDC was supposed to issue the proposal this month, and none of it seems controversial. So why the delay? The guidelines face opposition from well-meaning groups representing patients with serious diseases. They’re concerned that these guidelines will make it harder for patients who truly need these drugs to get them. But they needn’t be concerned. There is a specific exemption for patients in active cancer treatment or those in palliative and end-or-life care. That is literally the first sentence of this proposal. And remember, these are voluntary guidelines for best practices. At the end of the day, it will still be up to each patient’s doctor to decide on the best course of treatment – just as it should be.

The guidelines may not be perfect. Researchers may very well find evidence in the coming years that may mean revisions. But that is not an excuse to avoid action now. Because every day we wait means more tragic stories.  Every day we lose more of our parents and our children to opioid addiction. We simply cannot wait.

Thompson served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 through 2001 and as secretary of Health and Human Services from 2001 through 2005.