Painkiller restrictions could hamper nursing home residents, providers

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Nursing home residents could be adversely affected if proposed painkiller regulations are put in place, according to experts who spoke at a recent federal hearing.

After meeting for two days last week at the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Maryland, the panel voted 19-10 to make it tougher to access hydrocodone painkillers such as Vicodin. Under the regulations, patients would have to obtain new prescriptions for refills and would not be able to obtain these by fax or phone. Critics say this would hurt nursing home residents with mobility issues, who would have to visit a physician to get needed drugs.

Among other proposed changes, nurse practitioners and physician assistants would no longer be able to prescribe hydrocodone, and distributors would have to store the drugs in vaults. The FDA is likely to accept the proposed changes, according to a New York Times report. The Department of Health and Human Services would then have to approve them.

The panel was convened at the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which argues that tightening access to these medications is necessary to combat rampant prescription drug addiction. While the painkiller oxycodone is related to more deaths, hydrocodone can also be dangerous and is the most widely prescribed drug in the country. Access to these drugs is a matter of concern for nursing homes, which have been affected by crimes related to both hydrocodone and oxycodone.

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