Federal law enforcement officials have asked the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (www.fda.gov) to reconsider its current classification of the opioid drug Vicodin and other narcotic pain relievers containing hydrocodone.
This is not the first time the FDA has been asked to review the classification of Vicodin. Fighting the opioid addiction problem in America frustrates law enforcement officials, as well as the families of drug overdose victims with the perceived lack of cooperation from the FDA.
Law enforcement officials are asking that the drug be classified as a Class II substance. Currently, it falls under Class III rules and regulations. One of the issues included in the discussions is whether Vicodin and hydrocodone in particular are as addictive or less addictive as other opioid medications, which are tightly restricted, such as oxycodone.
Proponents of the reclassification cite research involving drug users that shows little difference in the euphoric effects between hydrocodone and oxycodone. According to University of Kentucky researchers, “The data suggest that the relative potency of these three commonly abused opioids do not differ greatly from one another.”
The request puts law enforcement and the victims and families of drug abusers at odds with the drug enforcement agency.
Law Enforcement and Victims’ Families Push for Tighter Controls
Families of drug abusers say they have witnessed the addictive effects of hydrocodone. Not only is the drug destructive but it is also easily accessed because of the overwhelming amount of pills available in this country.
According to another report from the University of Kentucky, “Americans, constituting only 4.6% of the world’s population, have been consuming 80% of the global opioid supply, and 99% of the global hydrocodone supply.”
FDA is Reluctant
The FDA’s argument against tighter restrictions has always rested on the potential for a decrease in availability of the drug for patients who need it. In addition, the FDA has not taken an official medical stance on whether hydrocodone has the abuse potential of other opioid pain relievers.
The Reality of Stricter Controls
Classifying the drug as a Class II substance means that patients will be making more visits to the pharmacy as physicians will only be able to prescribe a maximum of a three months’ supply. Under Class III, a six-month supply was allowed.
In addition, pharmacies will need to take additional steps to secure the drugs, and there will be stricter controls around handling these prescription medications.
Given that there were well over 200 million prescriptions written for narcotic painkillers in the United States in 2011, the argument that the drugs will not be readily available may no longer be relevant.