DEA Imposes New Rules to Combat Hydrocodone Threat

DEA Imposes New Rules to Combat Hydrocodone Threat

By Bryan Le 08/27/14

It's about to become a lot harder to get prescriptions for hydrocodone-based medications thanks to new DEA rules.

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In the face of widespread prescription opiate abuse in the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration is tightening restrictions on hydrocodone painkillers.

The new rules published by the DEA on Friday dictate that patients who need painkillers, such as the ever-popular and most abused medication Vicodin, can only get a single 90-day prescription at most and will need to see their doctor in person to get a refill. That means no phone-in prescription refills, while some states aren't even allowing nurses or physician assistants to prescribe these painkillers anymore. Pharmacies will also be required to keep these opiate drugs in special vaults.

These new restrictions, which will come into full effect in 45 days, are reclassifying hydrocodone combination drugs such as Vicodin and Lortab into the same category as codeine and oxycodone, which are listed as Schedule II drugs due to their high potential for abuse.

“Almost 7 million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents,” said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart in a press release. “[Friday's] action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths more than tripled in the last 20 years, according to CDC estimates. In 2009, they killed 15,000 people, more than cocaine and heroin combined. The sale of opioids have also risen 300% since 1999.

“This is probably the single most important change that could happen on a federal level to bring this public health crisis under control,” said  Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “It will take time to see the impact, but this will turn out to be a turning point in this epidemic.”