Hydrocodone, a narcotic painkiller that is an ingredient in Vicodin, has been responsible for more deaths since 2006 than any other prescription medication. In an effort to stem the growing tide of Vicodin-related deaths, a federal panel has recommended that the FDA reclassify the drug as a Schedule II narcotic. This would place it in the same category as prescription drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl and illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. All of these drugs that have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Hydrocodone was first approved by the FDA for use in the United States in 1943. According to the Los Angeles Times, 99% of hydrocodone produced worldwide is consumed in this country. More prescriptions are written for hydrocodone than for leading antibiotic and anti-hypertension drugs. Drug experts are concerned about the increase in prescriptions for hydrocodone in recent years, due in large part to a mistaken perception that the drug is less risky than other prescription painkillers. This increase is blamed for higher levels of diversion and illegal use of the drug and more overdose deaths.
If the reclassification of hydrocodone goes through and Vicodin becomes a Schedule II drug, several tighter controls would go into effect. The number of pills prescribed at one time would be limited and refills would not be available without a new prescription. Schedule II drugs also require tighter storage security on the part of pharmacies.
In the past, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has asked for the reclassification on hydrocodone without success. The FDA held back on reclassification in the belief that doing so would make it more difficult for legitimate patients to receive treatment for pain. That concern seems to be changing as evidenced by a recent letter sent by the American Academy of Pain Medicine to the FDA. The letter stated that the organization does not oppose moving hydrocodone to the Schedule II category.
Prescription drugs, especially painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, currently account for more overdose deaths per year than cocaine and heroin combined. Drug deaths now surpass traffic fatalities as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. According to CBS News, more than 240 million prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were written in the United States in 2010. With a total population of 307 million, this means that 80 percent of Americans (including children) could have been provided with a painkiller prescription.