By CHAD ABSHIRE
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the FDA’s Safety and Innovation Act yesterday, reclassifying drugs containing hydrocodone as schedule II substances.
As a result, patients will need an original prescription for refills, pills will be stored and transported more securely, and traffickers will be subject to increased fines and penalties. Hydrocodone, a highly-addictive substance, is found in drugs like Vicodin and Lortab.
The amendment was bipartisan, and featured both senators from the State of West Virginia helping introduce it: Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller (both D-W.Va.). They were joined by Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer (both D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Il.)
“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that is destroying communities across the nation, wreaking havoc on our education system, devastating our workforce and our economy, and tearing our families apart,” Manchin said. “This is not a problem unique to West Virginia.
“Yet, in every place I have traveled in my state, I have heard from residents, community leaders, students, school principals, business owners, representatives from law enforcement and everyone in between: drug abuse is a major problem facing their communities and its effects are very far-reaching.”
In 2010 alone, pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 42 tons of pure hydrocodone — enough to give 24 Vicodin pills to every single person in the United States.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, drugs which are subject to abuse and can have harmful effects are classified and regulated according to five schedules, based on their potential for abuse and medicinal usage. Schedule I contains the most dangerous substances and is the most restricted, while Schedule V is the most permissive category of drugs.
Currently, pure hydrocodone is considered a Schedule II drug. However, when certain quantities of hydrocodone are combined with substances like Tylenol, they are listed in a less stringent category, Schedule III. The bipartisan amendment eliminates the exemption in Schedule III for hydrocodone-combination drugs, so that all substances containing hydrocodone – including Vicodin and Lortab – will now fall into Schedule II.
“We absolutely must fight back against the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, particularly in West Virginia,” Rockefeller said. “And I have long sought to improve the tools available to health care professionals to reduce overprescribing and misuse of drugs. This problem is very real for so many families and communities in my state, and we must continue to combat abuse on all fronts. This amendment is another positive step forward.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 40 people die daily from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone (commonly known as Vicodin) methadone, oxycodone (known as OxyContin) and oxymorphone. According to a report issued by the CDC in November, the death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade
“I’m truly pleased that this amendment has passed and will make it much harder for anyone to abuse these prescription drugs,” Manchin. “I offered this legislation on behalf of the countless West Virginians whose lives have been cut short by drug abuse and the families who are picking up the pieces. I’m committed to working extremely hard across the aisle to see this most important legislation passed.”