News that the Federal government is tightening restrictions on hydrocodone combination painkillers in an effort to curb widespread abuse received wide coverage, with several major newspapers and news agencies reporting. Some news outlets noted that the rule change was welcomed by many, including lawmakers from states that have been plagued by opioid abuse. Others quoted sources who were skeptical whether the rule change would help curb abuse of the painkillers.
USA Today reports the change, for instance, will “sharply reduce how many pills a doctor can prescribe for them at one time.” Also, manufacturers and pharmacies will now have to keep hydrocodone combination products such as Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) under tighter security, along with “more extensive records.” The new rule, which takes effect from mid-October, elevates the painkillers to Schedule II from Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act.
Highlighting the importance of the rule change, the New York Times notes that it is “one of the most far-reaching efforts to stop the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.” The paper points to a grim statistic, noting that “more than 20,000 Americans die every year because of prescription drug abuse,” citing Federal data. Still, the Times notes, the change is expected to “draw strong criticism from some pain management experts,” who argue that the new restrictions impose “unfair obstacles for patients in chronic pain, making it harder, for example, on those who cannot easily make a trip to the doctor.”
The Wall Street Journal examines both sides of the debate, citing sources who are against tighter restrictions and those who seek tougher rules. The paper notes that Linden Barber, a former DEA attorney, who now works with the law firm Quarles & Brady LLP in Indianapolis, pointed out the rule change may not have a major impact because painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone), which already have tough safeguards in place, continue to be abused.
The AP provides background information, noting that the move, disclosed in a Federal notice, “comes more than a decade after” the DEA “first recommended reclassifying hydrocodone due to its risks for abuse and addiction.” The AP notes that for years, physician groups and the FDA “opposed the move, saying it would burden health care providers and patients while driving up costs.” However, FDA changed its stance last year, “citing the national epidemic of overdoses and deaths tied to prescription painkillers known as opioids.”
From the news release of the American Association for Justice.