Hydrocodone and Oxycodone Equally Addictive, says DEA, and Patients Could be Drug Abusers
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been pushing for years for hydrocodone to be reclassified, from Schedule III to Schedule II, because of wide-spread drug abuse. Doctors who treat chronic pain and illness have argued differently, at the same time – that reclassifying such an effective pain medication would be detrimental to patient care.
Recently, the FDA gathered an advisory committee to hear all the evidence and weigh in on the prescription drug’s abuse. The FDA does not have to make the same decision once the advisory panel votes, but the regulatory agency will often take advisory panels’ opinions strongly into consideration.
On Friday, January 25th, the advisory panel voted 19-10 in favor of reclassifying Hydrocodone, and it’s famous brand names including Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco, as Schedule II.
History of Drug Abuse for a Useful Pain Medicine
Like many highly-regulated Schedule II drugs, Hydrocodone is an opioid pain killer, in the same chemical family as Oxycodone/Oxycontin, Methadone, and Codeine. However, the prevailing medical reasoning behind keeping Hydrocodone specifically Schedule III was to ensure that patients in chronic pain could have easier access to an effective, and supposedly safer, pain medication.
However, the DEA is concerned that Hydrocodone’s classification could mean that potential drug abusers have easier access to higher quantities of the narcotic. Since Hydrocodone, unlike its opioid cousins, is a Schedule III drug at the moment, doctors can prescribe up to 6 months’ worth of the drug at one time, and allow for refills. Schedule II drugs like Oxycontin cannot be refilled – patients must go to their doctor for a new prescription. Additionally, doctors can only prescribe 30 days of Schedule II pain killers.
For doctors, this could put a damper on how well they are able to manage their patients’ pain – and it could mean greater inconvenience and much more limited access to necessary drugs for patients who deserve them.
“Rescheduling the products to Schedule II would create significant hardships for all — leading to delayed access for vulnerable patients with legitimate chronic pain,” said the National Community Pharmacists Association, in a statement.
Doctors and medical advisors also pointed out that reclassifying the drug would do nothing to help curb potential drug abuse.
The DEA, however, points to the epidemic of opioid drug abuse, saying that 75% of prescription drug abuse in the United States stems from access to Hydrocodone and Oxycontin.
“Schedule III controls are not adequate,” DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph Rannazzisi wrote Feb. 13, 2009, in a letter to the FDA requesting a scientific and medical evaluation of the drug for rescheduling.
Emergency room visits involving hydrocodone jumped from 37,844 in 2004 to 57,550 in 2006, the DEA says.
“We’ve seen the terribly serious consequences of poor prescribing practices stemming from obvious misclassification of hydrocodone combinations,” said panelist Mary Ellen Olbrisch, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I don’t think the reclassification is a panacea for the opiate abuse problem in the U.S.,” she added, “but I think it’s an important step in getting physicians to rethink prescribing practices and look at other approaches to pain management.”
“It’s unquestionable, this epidemic of abuse and death [from opioid narcotics], it’s something we need to address as a society,” said Douglas Throckmorton, MD, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “There’s also a need for appropriate access to opioids for patients in pain. Finding a balance between those needs is what FDA will be working on.”
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Charges of Prescription Drug Abuse
One of the quandaries that law enforcement faces with prescription drug abuse is the way in which abusers obtain their drugs – by prescription. One of the ways the DEA hopes to curb prescription drug abuse is by making prescriptions more difficult to obtain. This would force doctors to reconsider pain management overall. It would also mean fewer pills were available to potential drug abusers who live with or know the person to whom the drugs were prescribed.
If you have received criminal drug abuse charges, or are suspected of abusing prescription drugs, you are not automatically guilty, and you do not give up any of your rights. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help defend you. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case. Do not let criminal drug charges such as trafficking or possession ruin your reputation and career prospects. Contact us today. 803.252.4800.