FDA proposing stricter prescription requirements for Vicodin

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by ABBY GIBB / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 24, 2013 at 6:48 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 24 at 7:00 PM

SEATTLE-- The country's most prescribed drug could soon become a lot more difficult to get.  The FDA wants to drastically change the way Vicodin, or Hydrocodone in its generic form, gets prescribed.

"I had a stroke at work when I was 40 years old," said Kathy Cook, 55. 

That stroke left the Kirkland grandmother with arthritis and bulging disks in her back made worse by the cold winter months.

"It doesn't take the pain away, just makes it so I can tolerate it," added Cook.

Hydrocodone is the only thing that works for her.  Cook takes it just a few months out of the year, but without it?

"I'd be in excruciating pain. No one would want to be around me, that's for sure,” she said.

Now she and the 47 million Americans prescribed this drug each year could be in for a rude awakening. 

In an effort to curb our country's rampant prescription drug abuse, the FDA  wants to change Hydrocodone from a Schedule III drug to II, making it more difficult to get.  By moving it to Schedule II -- which means it has a high potential for abuse -- the drugs can only be prescribed in 90-day amounts before a trip to the doctor versus the now six months.  Nurses and physician assistants will no longer be able to prescribe the medications.
 
"It's a mixed blessing because we might be shooting ourselves in the foot," said Dr. David Tauben, who works at UW's Center for Pain Relief.

He said the FDA's decision is a double edged sword.

"Fewer of these opiates in circulation the better , there will be less medications sitting in medicine cabinets because refills won't be taken," said Tauben.

But it could also prevent those who really need it from getting access.

"There's transportation issues, there's scheduling issues.  It's enough of a problem to see your doctor right now because of how far out we're booked," Tauben added.

Tauben worries this will send people flocking to a new drug called Zohydro, a newly-approved extended release version of Hydrocodone.

"I might as well give you something stronger," he speculated, "because the hassle is the same for me and you."

He said that drug -- and other stronger options like Oxycotin -- have a much higher potential for abuse.

"We're substituting a more dangerous drug for a less dangerous drug and it doesn't make any sense," said Tauben.

It doesn't make much sense to Kathy Cook either.  Living on a fixed income with no car, this new regulation could hurt those who need it most.

"What do I have to do? Start calling three months in advance? I'd have to have something through the winter months," she said.
 

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