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New Rules for Hydrocodone: What You Need to Know

Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) placed new restrictions on hundreds of hydrocodone combination products. The ruling places a more-restrictive classification on hydrocodone combination products, reclassifying them as highly-restricted Schedule II drugs.

The new rules are expected to take effect on October 6.

A Crash Course on Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is an opioid narcotic analgesic, or pain reliever, that acts similarly to morphine. Though opiates are mankind’s most effective pain relievers, they are also the most addictive. Abuse of these drugs can quickly lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. In 2012 alone, medical professionals handed out more than 135 million prescriptions for hydrocodone and acetaminophen drugs. That same year, opiate painkillers prompted 420,040 emergency room visits and were responsible for three-quarters of all pharmaceutical-related deaths in the U.S.

Changes Specific to Hydrocodone

It’s important to understand that hydrocodone, by itself, was already on the Schedule II list. Thanks to a portion of the 1970 Controlled Substances legislation, however, pills containing less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone were placed on the less-restrictive Schedule III list – until now. The DEA ruling impacts hydrocodone products combined with an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or aspirin.

Some popular hydrocodone combination products affected by the new DEA reclassification include:

What Can Patients Expect?

Chronic pain or cancer patients who rely on hydrocodone products for pain relief can expect the DEAs new ruling to impact their lives in the following ways:

  • Every prescription must be obtained from a doctor. In most states, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants will no longer be able to write hydrocodone prescriptions.
  • Oral prescriptions will only be issued in cases of emergency and, when written, can only supply enough medication for a duration of 72 hours.
  • Doctors do have the ability to write a series of prescriptions dated on the same day with a ‘do not fill date until,’ up to a 90-day supply. This will prevent some patients from monthly doctor’s visits to obtain refills.
  • Some medical care facilities may have secure, electronic prescribing systems that are acceptable in place of the written prescription, but that’s rare in a private physician’s office.

Expected Outcomes of the DEA Ruling

  • Limits the amount opiates available on the black market
  • Prevents hydrocodone abuse without placing undue stress on the patients who really need these drugs
  • Cuts off “pill-mills” and internet pharmacies
  • Increased recordkeeping requirements will make it easier for authorities to monitor a physician’s prescribing patterns and identify possible misconduct
  • Getting caught with unprescribed hydrocodone pills will become a more serious crime, thanks to the reclassification

Learn more about treatment options for prescription painkiller addiction.