Drug agency officially proposes to restrict access to hydrocodone medications

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The federal government is on the verge of tightening access to Vicodin and similar types of painkillers by moving the drugs from Schedule III to Schedule II classification. Long-term care providers have protested this change, saying it will make it more difficult to manage residents' pain.

Vicodin is known as a hydrocodone combination product (HCP), because it contains the opioid hydrocodone as well as other substances. While hydrocodone itself has been classified as a Schedule II drug for decades, HCPs have been considered less dangerous.

However, a 2012 law called for reevaluating how HCPs are classified. An advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration voted to change the classification in December. A Drug Enforcement Administration evaluation supported that decision, and the agency published its official proposal in the Feb. 27 Federal Register.

Too much of the medication is being diverted from patients, and many people are endangering themselves by taking the drugs “on their own initiative” rather than according to the “medical advice from a practitioner,” according to the entry in the Federal Register.

Switching these drugs to Schedule II would limit who can prescribe them and tighten controls around prescription refills, so long-term care providers and allied groups have spoken out against reclassification. Those experiencing chronic pain, “especially those in nursing home and long-term care,” stand to be harmed, said National Community Pharmacists Association spokesman Kevin Schweers in November.

Click here to access the complete proposed rule. Comments are being accepted through April 27.

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