Fearful Feds Put New Limits On Addictive Painkillers

New Restrictions On Prescription Painkillers - PhysicianHealthProgramThe Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August that extra restrictions would soon be placed on prescription opioid painkillers. After a 45-day waiting period, these new regulations have now been activated, and the way narcotic pain medications are distributed has changed significantly as a result.

As of Oct. 6, hydrocodone combination drugs (usually hydrocodone mixed with acetaminophen) have been reclassified as Schedule II narcotics, meaning they have high potential for abuse and addiction. Hydrocodone is one of 48 opiates now listed in this category, which highlights just how dangerous to human health this drug class really is.

As of now, doctors are allowed to give their patients only one 30-day prescription for hydrocodone painkillers — and no refills. In the past, patients given a medication like Vicodin could get their prescription renewed as many as five times.

Now, Only Doctors, Not Nurses Can Prescribe Hydrocodone Products

However, doctors became so busy handing out painkiller prescriptions that they frequently delegated this responsibility to nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants, and that is another thing that will change as a result of the new regulations. From now on, only doctors will be able to write prescriptions for hydrocodone products, and it will no longer be permissible for physicians to fax or call in prescriptions on behalf of their patients. The idea is to reduce the chances for fraud, forgery or fakery by reducing the number of medical personnel allowed to hand out prescriptions for addictive substances.

Previous government interventions were designed to make it harder for drug addicts to get their hands on oxycodone, the most potent opioid on the market. But these new limits will apply strictly to hydrocodone combination drugs like Vicodin, Norco and Lortab. These medications are not as powerful as OxyContin, the most famous (or is it infamous?) oxycodone-based drug, but they are still highly addictive and can cause enormous problems if overused or abused.

If they don’t take the warning labels on their pill bottles seriously, medical patients who view these milder narcotics as safe can slip into addiction in a heartbeat. Over the last 15 years, hydrocodone has produced so many new drug addicts the government apparently felt it had no option but to intervene.

A Prescription For Death And Addiction

The initial reaction of doctors to these new regulations has been mixed. While most appreciate the need to control prescription drug abuse, many are concerned that patients undergoing intense pain will not have access to medications that can ease their suffering.

Even though prescription drug addiction is widespread, the majority of people who are given narcotic painkillers follow the instructions on the label and are able to put the drugs aside later without any trouble. The fear is that draconian restrictions on drug availability will cause more harm than they prevent, as patients who would never be reckless with their medications are sacrificed in order to protect a small percentage of the population from risk.

Painkiller Addiction

But while these objections are understandable, painkiller addiction is a true menace that can’t be ignored. The current outbreak of prescription drug abuse has killed up to 100,000 Americans over the last decade, according to statistics released by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the annual prescription drug overdose fatality rate has tripled in the last 20 years, while the sale of legal opioids has gone up three-fold since 1999. Certainly these statistical surges are not coincidental, and a failure to act aggressively against the most deadly and addictive of all prescription drug classes would undermine any strategy designed to reduce the damage being caused by rampant prescription drug abuse.

Positive Spin On Hydrocodone Regulations – Alternative Non-Pharmaceutical Options

If it turns out that medical patients in desperate need of pain medication are being unnecessarily burdened by these new regulations, the government may need to moderate its policies to give physicians greater latitude. But then again, stricter regulations on medications may encourage doctors to consider alternative, non-pharmaceutical options for pain treatment more frequently, which could represent a hugely positive development in the medical profession as a whole.

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