U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), along with Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), introduced bipartisan legislation today to combat prescription drug abuse by tightening restrictions on some of the most powerful and addictive narcotics on the market. The "Safe Prescribing Act of 2013" reclassifies hydrocodone painkillers, such as Vicodin and Lortab, from Schedule III to Schedule II controlled substances to accurately reflect their high potential for addiction and abuse.
Congressmen Buchanan and Markey noted the bipartisan support the bill has already received from 41 co-sponsors and urged Congress to pass it immediately:
"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.
"Too many of our loved ones are dying every day from prescription drug overdoses and are abusing hydrocodone painkillers for non-medical purposes," said Congressman Buchanan, noting that prescription drug abuse claims seven lives a day in Florida. "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 Senators Manchin and Kirk for joining me in this fight."
Emergency room visits involving hydrocodone rose from 38,000 in 2004 to more than 115,000 in 2010. These drugs are now the most widely prescribed painkillers in the U.S. The DEA has supported this change since 1994 and an expert advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently voted 19-10 in favor of re-classifying hydrocodone painkillers as Schedule II controlled substances. Reps. Buchanan and Markey have since urged FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to adopt the board's recommendation immediately.
The restrictions on prescribing and using Schedule III drugs are much less stringent than those for Schedule II products. Under Schedule II, 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.
"We have a responsibility to this great nation of ours -- especially to our children -- to win this war on prescription drug abuse immediately. 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 reschedule hydrocodone immediately."
"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."
The "Safe Prescribing Act" received wide-spread support from a range of law enforcement and medical groups, including the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the National District Attorney's Association, and Mothers Against Prescription Drug Abuse.
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."