The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is taking steps to make the narcotic hydrocodone, one of the most widely prescribed medications in the country, more difficult to obtain, the Washington Post reported Feb. 15.
Hydrocodone is a painkiller and cough suppressant sold as Lortab, Vicodin, and under 200 generic brands. According to the DEA, the drug was prescribed more than 100 million times last year.
The DEA wants to move hydrocodone from Schedule III of the federal Controlled Substance Act to the more restrictive Schedule II.
“Hydrocodone is one of the most abused drugs in the nation,” said Christine Sannerud, deputy chief of the drug and chemical evaluation section of the DEA. “The agency thinks it would be wise to move it to Schedule II, because that would help a lot in terms of reducing abuse and trafficking.”
Doctors, pharmacists, and pain specialists said restricting the drug would place a significant burden on them and pain sufferers. The drug is used to treat serious pain from arthritis, AIDS, cancer, and chronic injuries.
“Rescheduling the drug will bring more hoops and barriers to getting access to the drugs, and it may prevent some minimal amount of abuse,” said Richard Payne, president of the American Pain Society. “But my concern is that it will come at the cost of denying access to thousands of patients.”
Susan Winkler of the American Pharmacists Association added, “Our members and doctors would have increased liability if hydrocodones are rescheduled, and that will inevitably reduce prescribing. We urge the DEA to make sure their decision is based on science and will make the situation better, not worse.”
The DEA action is part of a comprehensive campaign to address the issue of prescription-drug misuse.