FDA Panel Votes to Restrict Vicodin and Other Painkillers

First Posted: Jan 26, 2013 01:44 PM EST

It may be harder for fictional character, Dr. House, to get his painkiller of choice. A federal advisory panel has recommended tighter controls on hydrocodone combination drugs which include Vicodin, the nation's most widely prescribed drug.

This decision comes as an effort to help stem the epidemic of prescription drug deaths. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 19 to 10 on Friday in favor of moving hydrocodone combination drugs into the more restrictive schedule II category of controlled substances.  This decision would also affect drugs such as Lortab and Norco.

What does this mean for patients? If the FDA approves the change, the public would be able to get fewer hydrocodone pills at one time. There would also be more restrictions on refills, and pharmacies would have to follow stricter procedures for handling and storing the drug.

The U.S. consumes 99 percent of the hydrocodone produced worldwide, and doctors write more prescriptions for it than for the leading antibiotic and hypertension medications. Yet these same narcotic painkillers cause or contribute to more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. Because of this, drug deaths have actually surpassed deaths from motor vehicle crashes, rising to the number one cause of death in the country.

During the 2-day hearing about the drugs, though, industry and advocacy organizations expressed concerns that reducing access to hydrocodone combination products would limit treatment for patients in pain.

In the end, though, the majority decided that a reclassification into schedule II would be the best option. However, it's still up to the FDA whether or not any more actions will be taken to limit the use of these drugs

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