DENVER — There are sweeping changes when it comes to popping the most common painkiller in the country.
The federal government is making it more difficult for Americans to get their hands on hydrocodone.
It’s all in a move to reduce the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
Hydrocodone is found in drugs like Vicodin, which is normally taken to kill pain.
But it also kills thousands of Americans who abuse it every year.
“There is a small percentage of people that abuse it, statistically that translates into a lot of big numbers. A lot of people need it for pain control,” says Gina Moore, with the CU Skaggs School Of Pharmacy.
But getting that pain relief will require a little more effort according to Moore.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is reclassifying hydrocodone-combination drugs from a Schedule 3 Controlled Substance, to the more restrictive Schedule 2.
The highest, says Moore, are Schedule 1 drugs that have no legitimate medical purpose and the highest dependence and abuse. They include: marijuana, ecstasy and heroin.
“I think we are going to have angry patients that are used to getting their Vicodin called in,” says Moore.
Starting October 6, doctors can no longer phone in a prescription.
Instead, patients will have to see their doctor to get a new written prescription.
“So the concern is patient access,” says Moore.
She says critics say the change places a significant burden on patients in chronic pain, who have a harder time making it to the doctor.
“The patients with low back pain, those are your chronic users, they tend to use a lot of it, they get called in a lot of medications,” says Moore.
That’s who she says will feel the biggest impact–less so are dental, post-surgery and cancer patients, whose medications are more well-managed.
“Hopefully by controlling the use of it, there will be less exposure, less deaths, although that remains to be seen,” says Moore.
She says it’s possible people could move on to other prescriptions drugs or illicit ones like heroin.
Pharmacies will also feel the impact because they’ll have to increase their record-keeping and storage requirements.
The drug has to be kept locked up.