Painkiller distribution could be curtailed

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An advisory panel has recommended making it more difficult for long-term care residents and others to receive certain painkillers. Providers criticize the proposal, saying it could leave seniors suffering for long periods.

The panel's 19-10 vote was advanced to the Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to accept the majority opinion. The Department of Health and Human Services would then have to approve the recommendation.

Under the proposed regulation, providers would need to get new prescriptions for refills and would not be able to get them by fax or phone. At issue are hydrocodone painkillers such as Vicodin.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants would no longer be able to prescribe hydrocodone, and distributors would have to store the drugs in vaults if the measure is fully adopted. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration has argued 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.