The federal government has tightened the prescribing for the most common form of painkiller in the U.S., which the New York Times described as the final step in a policy shift that has been years in the making. The stricter rule for hydrocodone, the nation’s most widely prescribed painkiller, is one of the most far-reaching efforts to stop the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. More than 20,000 Americans die every year because of prescription drug abuse.
The rule places hydrocodone in a tougher, more restrictive category, and the changes it requires are sweeping. Doctors will no longer be able to call in prescriptions by telephone, and patients will not be allowed to get refills on the same prescription, but will have to return to a health care professional to get a new one. The drug must kept in special vaults in pharmacies. The Drug Enforcement Administration published the rule yesterday; it will take effect in 45 days. The change is sure to draw strong criticism from some pain management experts, who argue that the rule creates unfair obstacles for patients in chronic pain, making it harder, for example, on those who cannot easily make a trip to the doctor.