Government Continues Delay on Decision About Hydrocodone

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to delay making a decision about whether to reclassify drugs containing the opioid hydrocodone, to make them more strictly regulated, ABC News reports. The government has been considering the move for 12 years.

The government agencies are considering whether to move hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II, a move that would put the drug in the same category as oxycodone and morphine.

The news report suggests some believe part of the reason for the slow response might be the FDA’s close ties to pain advocacy groups. The FDA says it wants to consider unintended consequences of rescheduling the drug, such as making it more difficult for patients to obtain pain medication.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine sent a letter to the FDA in September urging the agency to change hydrocodone to a Schedule II drug. The article notes the group has not yet received a response.

According to the DEA, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States, with more than 139 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing products dispensed in 2010 and more than 36 million in the first quarter of 2011. A review of police drug labs finds seizures of pills containing hydrocodone are second only to those of oxycodone. Last year, almost 45,000 pills containing hydrocodone were seized in the U.S.

Schedule II drugs must be locked up at pharmacies. Physicians can only prescribe one bottle at a time and patients must have an original prescription in order to obtain the medication. Schedule III drugs can be refilled up to six times without visiting a doctor, who can phone or fax in a prescription to the pharmacy.

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