The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending new restrictions on prescription medicine that contains hydrocodone, which is a highly-addictive painkiller and the most widely prescribed drug in America.
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The agency said that hydrocodone-containing drugs should be subject to the same restrictions as other narcotic drugs like oxycodone and morphine. Hydrocodone belongs to a family of drugs known as opioids, which also includes heroin, codeine and methadone.
The agency’s top drug regulator, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said in a statement, “The FDA has become increasingly concerned about the abuse and misuse of opioid products, which have sadly reached epidemic proportions in certain parts of the United States.”
The FDA did not issue a formal announcement about its decision, which has long been sought by many patient advocates, doctors and state and federal lawmakers.
Hydrocodone is easier to prescribe than many other drugs since it is only sold in combination pills and formulas with other non-addictive ingredients like aspirin and acetaminophen. This ease of access has made it many health care professionals’ top choice for treating chronic pain, everything from back pain to arthritis to toothaches.
Due to its popularity, hydrocodone is also one of the most abused medicines in the U.S.
Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that prescription painkiller overdose deaths among women increased about fivefold between 1999 and 2010. Among men, such deaths rose about 3.5-fold. The rise in both death rates is closely tied to a boom in the overall use of prescribed painkillers.
The FDA says it will formally request in early December that hydrocodone be rescheduled as a Schedule II drug, limiting which kinds of medical professionals can write a prescription and how many times it can be refilled.
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News of the FDA decision was applauded by lawmakers from states that have been plagued by prescription drug abuse, many who have been prodding the agency to take action for months.
“Today was a tremendous step forward in fighting the prescription drug abuse epidemic that has ravaged West Virginia and our country,” said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, in a statement. “Rescheduling hydrocodone from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug will help prevent these highly addictive drugs from getting into the wrong hands and devastating families and communities