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
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
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
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"Today's action recognizes that these products are some of the most
addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications
available," Leonhart said.
Vicodin is made by AbbVie. Other brand names containing hydrocodone
in combination with another drug include Lortab, made by UCB.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; editing by Gunna Dickson
and Frances Kerry)
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