Since Americans cannot seem to refrain from killing themselves with prescription painkillers, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration has made the decision to implement new restrictions that will reclassify all hydrocodone-based medications and put them in the same ranks as cocaine.
The DEA announced its latest rules for patients who receive popular hydrocodone combination drugs such as Vicodin and Lortab, which will only allow them to receive a 90-day prescription and force them to see a physician in order to obtain a refill. Previously, doctors were permitted to call in refills for pain medication over the phone, which was typically done by the nurses and physician assistants. However, the new regulations no longer allow anyone but a physician to approve refills on prescription opioids.
“Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents,” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement. “Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”
It has been over a decade since the DEA first suggested the reclassification of hydrocodone over concerns of abuse and addiction. Yet, the effort was never able to gain much momentum due to predictions by the Food and Drug Administration that reclassifying the drug would be more of a hassle than what it is worth. That opinion changed last year when the FDA finally admitted that prescription painkillers were causing an uprising in overdose deaths across the nation — killing 15,000 people in 2009, according to the CDC, following a 300 percent increase in opioid sales over a span of ten years.
Hydrocodone combination drugs, like Vicodin, were given a Schedule III classification with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which provided them with looser restrictions than Schedule II drugs like Oxycodone and morphine. However, in 45 days, these combination painkillers, which were once believed to have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” will be added to the Schedule II listing — preventing patients from taking these medication for up to six months without a checkup with their doctor.
Many health experts believe this was a crucial move in protecting the average citizen from succumbing to the wrath of dangerous drugs. “Regardless of the painkiller that they’re using, if you speak with them, nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you that their addiction began with the use of Vicodin, either medical or recreational,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, with Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
“This is probably the single most important change that could happen on a federal level to bring this public health crisis under control,” Kolodny added. “It will take time to see the impact, but this will turn out to be a turning point in this epidemic.”
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