According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of prescription drug overdoses are caused by opiate-based painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Over the past ten years, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has worked vigorously to enact tighter restrictions on one of the most prescribed painkillers, Vicodin.
The DEA has requested the U.S. Food And Drug Administration move Vicodin from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug, placing Vicodin in the same category as OxyContin and other powerful narcotics. This means Vicodin would fall under the second most restrictive category, heroin being in the first .
This is the second effort made by the DEA to modify Vicodin’s classification. The initial request, submitted in 2004, was rejected by the FDA in 2008 because they reasoned that hydrocodone combination drugs, such as Vicodin, have less potential for abuse than other drugs that are classified as Schedule II such as Oxycodone.
Arguments For And Against Vicodin Reclassification
Those against Vicodin restrictions aren’t convinced they will have an impact on the level of opiate abuse, but worry more about the potential impact on patients and doctors. They believe a change in the drug’s classification will make it harder to get for patients truly in need.
Vicodin is an opioid pain reliever that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Its current classification allows doctors to provide patients with up to five refills on a 30-day prescription. This means patients have a six-month supply of medication before having to schedule a follow-up visit.
Tighter restrictions on Vicodin will impact doctors who, according to USA Today, wrote nearly 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone combinations to an estimated 47 million patients in 2011.
If the classification of Vicodin is elevated to Schedule II, doctors won’t be able to prescribe refills or even phone a prescription into the pharmacy. Tighter restrictions would also increase regulations for manufacturers and pharmacies that would in turn involve tighter security measures as well as more detailed record keeping.
Patients who rely on Vicodin for relief will also feel the impact of tighter restrictions. Patients would incur more costs with increased office visits required to obtain their prescription. Prescribing practices of most doctors would inevitably change due to the risk of prescribing a Schedule II narcotic and the increase in their workload involving paperwork and appointments.
According to USA Today, The DEA counters these arguments by maintaining that abuse, trafficking and diversion of the drug have grown since their initial request, causing a “devastating effect” on public health and that Schedule III controls are simply not adequate enough to quell this problem.