As a country, we sure do like our prescription painkillers. In fact, we like them a bit too much: Americans consume 99% of all hydrocodone drugs manufactured in the world. Prescription drug abuse — and deaths from overdose — are rampant. The DEA is hoping to stem the tide of abuse and overdose with a new rule that changes the way some painkillers are classified, and will make them harder for individuals to get.
The L.A. Times reports that the DEA today is announcing a new rule that will tighten regulations on drugs containing hydrocodone, like Vicodin. The new rule, which classifies them as Schedule II drugs, places them in the same category as other frequently-abused drugs like OxyContin.
The drugs are currently classified as Schedule III. Schedule II classification, which goes into effect in 45 days, will make them more difficult to obtain. Patients will be able to get fewer pills at a time and will have to obtain new prescriptions from their doctors more often.
The FDA recommended reclassifying vicodin and other hydrocodone drugs as Schedule II last October, after several years of resisting the change because the new classification will make it more burdensome for patients with legitimate needs for the drugs to obtain them. However, the Times reports, after the DEA showed that hydrocodone-containing drugs are all over the black market, the FDA reconsidered their position.
Almost 7 million Americans are estimated to abuse prescription painkillers, a representative for the DEA told the Times. Overuse and abuse of hydrocodone drugs contributes to about 16,000 deaths per year — more than heroin and cocaine combined, the Times reports.
Many of the fatal overdoes do result from illegally obtained drugs. However, plenty don’t. A Times investigation looking at records from four California counties found in half of prescription drug-related deaths, the medications were directly prescribed by doctors and presumably legally purchased.