According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 over 16,500 people took fatal overdoses of opioid-based painkillers. These drugs are responsible for more deaths than any other type of drug, whether legal or illegal, according to the CDC. One data provider reports that last year, nearly 128 million prescriptions were written for hydrocodone combination products. This accounted for $1.05 billion in sales.
The abuse of these painkillers has gotten so bad that the Obama administration announced in August that it plans to restrict prescriptions to some of the nation's most commonly-used narcotic painkillers. The Drug Enforcement Administration says that it will reschedule these drugs, which include popular pain medications like Vicodin, so that people will only be able to obtain a 90-day supply without a new prescription. Patients can currently have their prescriptions refilled as many as five times automatically and can get 180-day supplies.
According to the DEA's "Drug Scheduling" page, drugs like OxyContin are already in the Schedule II category because of their high potential for addiction. Hydrocodone combination pills like Vicodin have been classified as Schedule III drugs that reportedly have a "moderate to low" potential for addiction. Interestingly, the DEA still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Drugs in that category, which also includes heroin, according to the DEA have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
While anti-addiction advocates applaud the DEA's move, which will become effective this fall, some drug makers and sellers are not happy. Neither are organizations like the American Cancer Society. An ACS spokesman noted that patients who need these medications to manage their pain will be inconvenienced by having to get a new prescription every three months from their physician.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in announcing the change to the hydrocodone combination products, that it "recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available."
Most Miami physicians are responsible in prescribing medications to their patients and in monitoring those patients. Others, sadly, are not. While this change in the classification of some addictive drugs may make it more difficult for physicians to abuse their authority by over-prescribing, others will continue to do so. Physicians who harm patients by over-prescribing potentially-dangerous drugs and addictive drugs can be held legally responsible, both criminally and civilly for their actions.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "DEA Restricts Narcotic Pain Drug Prescriptions" Louise Radnofsky and Joseph Walker, Aug. 22, 2014