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FDA move to restrict popular pain medication

Pain relieving drugs are an important part of medical treatment. Whether to relieve temporary pain from surgery or other medical procedures, or to relieve chronic pain caused by an injury or deterioration of a patient's body, these drugs are literally salvation for millions. But pain killing drugs have a dark side, a very dark side that has been well known since the days of the opium dens.

Many drugs are restricted because they possess a "high potential for abuse" such as OxyContin and methadone, which are Schedule II drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that it would recommend moving drugs containing hydrocodone, like Vicodin, from Schedule III to Schedule II. 

This would change the way in which these narcotic-containing drugs are prescribed by doctors, including the number of refills a patient could have before they would have to obtain a new prescription from the doctor. It would also mean that patients would have to visit their pharmacy with the prescription.

The action is controversial because of the number of patients who receive these types of painkillers; doctor's organizations have opposed the change, claiming it would cause a "hardship" for patients.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has long argued for the change because of the addictive danger posed by these drugs. Overdose deaths from opioids have quadrupled over the last 14 years, and 70 percent of these drugs contain hydrocodone. The easy availability of the drugs fosters abuse according to some experts. In 2011, more five billion pills were prescribed containing hydrocodone.

The New York Times reports that the average patient only needs to take these drugs for 14 days. The current rules allow a 90-day supply, which some argue creates the excess pills which can be sold illegally or allow patients to develop addictions.

The director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research suggested that if you needed pain medication for longer than three-months you should be speaking with your doctor.

Source: The New York Times, "F.D.A. Urging a Tighter Rein on Painkillers," Barry Meier, October 24, 2013

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