U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), along with Representatives Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation today to combat prescription drug abuse by tightening restrictions on some of the most powerful, addictive narcotics on the market. The "Safe Prescribing Act of 2013" will reclassify hydrocodone painkillers, such as Vicodin and Lortab, from a Schedule III to a Schedule II controlled substance. The reclassification will accurately reflect the drugs' high potential for addiction and abuse.
"We have a responsibility to this great nation of ours -- especially to our children -- to win this war on prescription drug abuse. Drugs containing hydrocodone are some of the most abused substances in West Virginia and across the country," Senator Manchin said. "This growing nationwide prescription drug abuse epidemic with drugs containing hydrocodone has already destroyed too many communities and devastated too many families. The heart-wrenching stories I hear from so many West Virginians underscore the serious need to immediately reschedule hydrocodone."
"As responsible leaders, we cannot stand by and let prescription drug abuse become one of the fastest growing epidemics in our country," Senator Kirk said. "Hydrocodone addictions account for more than 60 percent of all drug addictions, and the number continues to increase each year. This bill will give law enforcement greater tools to monitor distribution and decrease access to those who use these drugs for non-medical purposes. I am proud to join this bipartisan, bicameral group to help curtail the amount of drug-related deaths in this country."
"Too many of our loved ones are dying every day from prescription drug overdoses and are abusing hydrocodone painkillers for non-medical purposes," said Buchanan, noting that 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone were written in 2010 alone. "This epidemic has reached such violent proportions that drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in this country. I have personally met with the victims of this scourge throughout Florida and credit them with inspiring this legislation. I salute Congressman Markey and so many others for joining me in this fight."
"Prescription drug abuse threatens families in Massachusetts and across the country with no regard for income, education, or political party. Congress needs to step up and take action to help fight the epidemic of prescription drug abuse sweeping the country," said Congressman Markey.
Emergency room visits linked to hydrocodone abuse rose from 38,000 in 2004 to more than 115,000 in 2010. These drugs are now the most widely prescribed painkillers in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration has supported this change since 2004. In addition, an expert advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently voted 19-10 in favor of re-classifying hydrocodone painkillers as a Schedule II controlled substance. Senators Manchin and Kirk along with Representatives Buchanan and Markey have since urged FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to adopt the board's recommendation immediately.
Under the new restrictions, a written prescription would be required in order to receive hydrocodone painkillers except in cases of emergency. Pharmacists would require patients to present an original prescription for refills, and traffickers would be subject to harsher fines and penalties.
Original co-sponsors to the "Safe Prescribing Act" in the U.S. Senate include: Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Original co-sponsors to the "Safe Prescribing Act" in the U.S. House include: Chairman Hal Rogers, R-KY; Chairman Darrell Issa R-CA; Chairman Jeff Miller, R-FL; Chairman Bill Shuster, R-PA; Patrick Murphy, D-FL; Kathy Castor, D-FL; John Mica, R-FL; Corrine Brown, D-FL; Richard Nugent, R-FL; Alcee Hastings, D-FL; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL; Frederica Wilson, D-FL; Bill Posey, R-FL; Ted Deutch, D-FL; Ander Crenshaw, R-FL; Dennis Ross, R-FL; Steve Southerland, R-FL; Scott Tipton, R-CO; Lynn Westmoreland, R-GA; Bill Keating, D-MA; Joe Kennedy, D-MA; Stephen Lynch, D-MA; Dan Benishek, R-MI; Donna Edwards, D-MD; Steve Pearce, R-NM; Louise Slaughter, D-NY; Brian Higgins, D-NY; Pat Tiberi, R-OH; Steve Stivers, R-OH; Tom Marino, D-PA; Scott DesJarlais, R-TN; Stephen Fincher, R-TN; Diane Black, R-TN; Jim Cooper, D-TN; Dr. Phil Roe, R-TN; John Duncan, R-TN; Nick Rahall, D-WV; Shelly Moore Capito, R-WV.
The "Safe Prescribing Act" received widespread support from health care providers, addiction specialists, law enforcement, advocacy groups and victims across the nation:
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, President of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said, "This legislation will correct an error made over 40 years ago when the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) incorrectly classified hydrocodone combination products. There is clear and convincing medical evidence that hydrocodone has the same abuse liability as the Schedule II opioids."
Janet Janes, co-founder and President of Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse, said, "It's heartbreaking to me how we as a country are still not recognizing the horrific epidemic of prescription drug abuse that is facing us. It is of utmost importance to educate the public to the dangers prescription drug abuse presents to their children and communities. It is equally important that we eliminate abusive access to all dangerous medications."
Suncoast mothers Ruth Lyerly and Cindy Harney, who both tragically lost their sons to prescription drug abuse, said, "For over a decade, abuse and death from prescription drugs has escalated to what now is being called an "epidemic.' We contacted Congressman Buchanan a year ago and thanks to his and Rep. Markey's ongoing efforts to have the FDA reschedule these highly addictive drugs, families might be spared the sorrow and pain of losing a child or loved one."