The Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday, October 25 that after years of needling by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), they have suggested tighter controls on how doctors prescribe the most commonly used narcotic painkillers. These changes are expected to take place in early 2014.
The change, which will reduce the number of refills a patient can obtain before going back to their physician, is a key policy shift. It follows a decade-long debate over whether the abused drugs, which contain hydrocodone, should be controlled as tightly as more powerful painkillers like OxyContin.
According to government data, prescription drugs account for about three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths in the United States, with the number of deaths from narcotic painkillers increasing 400 percent since 1999.
The change will reclassify hydrocodone-containing painkillers as Schedule II medications from their current classification as Schedule III. The scheduling structure is overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and addiction.
This classification change would also require additional storage and record-keeping requirements for pharmacies. Medical professionals who can currently prescribe hydrocodone-containing drugs like nurse practitioners and other health care professionals may no longer be able to do so come 2014.
According to government records, in 2011, about 5 billion hydrocodone-containing medications were prescribed for about 47 million patients.