Yesterday, the United States Senate unanimously passed an amendment by sponsored by U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would help prevent prescription drug abuse of substances that contain hydrocodone and make it more difficult to abuse the addictive pain medicine.
The Senators' amendment to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act reclassifies 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. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the number of Americans who abuse pescription drugs is two and a half times more than the number who use cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and inhalants combined.
"Prescription drug abuse is rapidly rising, with 200,000 Illinois teens and young adults having abused pharmaceutical narcotics in 2010 alone," said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk. "The Senate's passage of this bipartisan amendment will help to prevent abuse of this addictive pain medicine, ensure law enforcement has greater tools to monitor the distribution of hydrocodone drugs and decrease access for people using these drugs for non-medical purposes."
Hydrocodone abuse has been growing at an alarming rate across the nation. In 2010, pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 42 tons of pure hydrocodone, enough to give 24 pills of Vicodin to each man, woman and child in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 40 people die each day from overdoses involving narcotic pan relievers such as hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, drugs that are subject to abuse and have harmful effects are classified and regulated according to schedules (classified I through V), based on their potential for abuse and medicinal usage. Schedule I contains the most dangerous substances and is the most restrictive. 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 would eliminate the exemption in Schedule III for hydrocodone-combination drugs, so that all substances containing hydrocodone -- including Vicodin and Lortab -- would fall into Schedule II.