WASHINGTON Aug 21 The U.S. government is
tightening restrictions on hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller
contained in Vicodin and other addictive drugs.
The move comes as health and law enforcement officials try
to curb a rising tide of prescription drug abuse. Nearly three
out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by opioid
painkillers, according to federal data.
"Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance
prescription medications, including opioid painkillers,
resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than
auto accidents," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a
statement announcing the move on Thursday.
In the future, products such as Vicodin that combine
hydrocodone with another substance such as acetaminophen or
aspirin, will be classed as Schedule II products, in line with
the opioids oxycodone and morphine.
Reclassifying the products will make them harder to obtain,
both by addicts and legitimate pain patients. Physicians will
not be allowed to call in a prescription to a pharmacy. Patients
will have to present a written prescription.
Also, fewer refills will be allowed before patients must
return to see their doctor. Opponents of the reclassification,
which has been in the works for several years, argue that
restricting pain products could cause hardship to patients with
chronic illnesses, especially the elderly.
Hydrocodone itself has been a Schedule II drug for decades,
but combination products have had a less restrictive Schedule
III designation. The DEA said that products that combine
hydrocodone with another drug - acetaminophen in the case of
Vicodin - are still highly addictive.
"Today's action recognizes that these products are some of
the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription
medications available," Leonhart said.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; editing by Gunna