One Billion Fewer Hydrocodone Combination Tablets Dispensed After Drug Rescheduled

One billion fewer hydrocodone combination tablets were dispensed and 26.3 million fewer prescriptions were written after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enacted tighter controls on prescribing these products, a new study finds.

In 2014, the DEA announced it would reclassify hydrocodone combination products such as Vicodin.

Under the new rules, patients can receive the drugs for only up to 90 days without receiving a new prescription.

The DEA reclassified hydrocodone combination products as Schedule II drugs.

Until October 2014, these drugs were classified as Schedule III drugs, meaning they could be refilled up to five times, and prescriptions could cover a 180-day period. In most cases, patients who wish to refill their hydrocodone combination prescription now have to give their pharmacy a prescription from a healthcare provider, instead of having it phoned or faxed in.

In the new study, researchers from the Department of Health and Human Services analyzed data from IMS Health National Prescription Audit, which estimates the number of prescriptions dispensed from U.S. pharmacies.

The findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Lead researcher Christopher Jones, PharmD, told MedPage Today the decline was substantial.

Andrew Kolodny, MD, Chief Medical Officer of the addiction rehabilitation program Phoenix House, said the DEA’s rescheduling of hydrocodone combination products will likely have a dramatic impact on the opioid epidemic.

“I think when we look back on this 10 or 20 years from now, we’ll see this was a very important policy change — maybe one of the most effective federal interventions to control the opioid addiction crisis,” he said. “A billion fewer hydrocodone combination pills in circulation is a billion fewer pills that people might have consumed. That means we’re reducing the exposure to a highly addictive drug.”