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US Regulators to Tighten Control on Opioid Painkillers

Update Date: Aug 22, 2014 09:36 AM EDT

Over the past few years, concerns regarding prescription drug abuse have risen. In response to these concerns, drug-manufacturing companies have attempted to make painkillers harder to abuse. However, this preventive measure has not been too successful. Now, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has stepped up, announcing that it will tighten control over one of the country's most commonly prescribed group of drugs known as hydrocodone combination drugs.

"Almost 7 million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Today's action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available."

The DEA has decided to re-categorize prescription painkiller drugs made with hydrocodone, such as Vicodin and Norco under Schedule II drugs, which are drugs that are considered medically useful but come with a high chance for abuse and harm. Other Schedule II drugs include OxyContin and fentanyl, which are frequently abused.

The new rule will take 45 days to be in effect. Under the new classification, there will be greater restrictions on how often the drugs are prescribed and refilled. For example, physicians will no longer be able to call in a prescription for these types of drugs. Instead, physicians are required to write out a prescription. Furthermore, in order to get refills, patients will have to see their doctors more often. Pharmacies will also have to follow stricter guidelines when dealing and storing the drugs.

"This move - which closed the Vicodin loophole - will help bring the opioid addiction epidemic under control because it will lead to fewer pain patients and recreational users becoming addicted," said Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, according to Philly.

Hydrocodone alone has been grouped as a Schedule II drug since 1970.

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