The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is now recommending that prescriptions of the painkiller hydrocodone be limited to a 90-day supply instead of the current 5 refills within six months. The Agency is also pushing to ban dentists, nurse practioners and physician assistants from being able to prescribe the drug.
“I am appalled to see that hydrocodone is the most prescribed drug in the US, and that has to be something very wrong with our healthcare system and society for this to happen,” commented Maria Suarez-Almazor, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Center in Houston, and member of the government advisory panel in favor of more restrictions on the availability of painkillers including morphine, vicodin and oxycodone, as well as cough suppressants containing hydrocodone.
In fact, the FDA reports that approximately 131 million hydrocodone products were dispensed in 2011 alone (more than twice the amount of oxycodone pills prescribed that year). No decision has been reached as to whether or not the FDA will follow the DEA’s advice. In fact, they previously denied a similar request back in 2008.
Pure hydrocodone is already classified as a Schedule II drug subject to more restrictions on sales, while hydrocodone combinations that mix the main ingredient with less potent painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are considered Schedule III controlled substances, the third highest level on a five stage scale that takes addiction risks into account.
Those opposing any new restrictions however include Edward Michna, director of the Pain Trials Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, who feels that stricter limits might have a “chilling effect on physicians’ willingness to provide needed relief for patients, as well as give rise to even further cases of illicit drug use by patients in need who can’t get prescriptions for the drugs.”