More than 200 million prescriptions are written for opiate drugs each year. These narcotic analgesics, including powerful medications such as Morphine and codeine, are only meant to be used short-term for pain relief purposes because these drugs are highly addictive. Because of the rapid increase in the abuse of narcotics, several new laws for been enacted in the United States to try to reduce availability and prevent abuse and misuse.
New Prescription Regulations
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced new rules that apply to medications containing hydrocodone, an opioid pain medication synthesized from codeine. Under the new rules, patients will have to return to their doctor before getting another refill. Also under the new DEA rules concerning hydrocodone-containing medications physicians cannot call or fax in prescriptions and pharmacies must keep their supply of hydrocodone medications in a vault to prevent theft.
On a related note, governors from several states have tried to block the release of Zohydro. It’s an extended-release form of hydrocodone because the drug may be even more habit forming than Vicodin, the most abused drug in the United States right now.
Reduced Opioid Availability
The DEA also announced plans to cut the opioid supply in the United States by as much as 25 percent. Specific to schedule II controlled substances, the new DEA order will reduce the quota for hydrocodone (available as brand names such as Vicodin and Lorcet) by a third. The order may have been inspired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement discouraging doctors from prescribing narcotic pain medications for chronic pain relief.
Limiting Narcotic Pain-Reliever Supplies
A new Ohio law that applies to dentists, doctors, and other health professionals limits the supply of painkillers to seven days for adults and five days for teenagers and children. The only exceptions are for patients with cancer, those under hospice care, and patients undergoing medication-assisted addiction treatment. In 2014, Ohio was the state with the most opioid overdose deaths. New Jersey and Pennsylvania also have laws concerning prescription volumes and other states are considering similar measures. The Pennsylvania law goes a step further and prohibits refills unless there is documented medical need. The state also has a new law that requires physicians to review the prescription histories of first-time patients.
Many doctors are now encouraging patients to consider other methods of pain relief that don’t involve strong painkillers. If opioids are necessary, efforts are being made to control access and make it difficult for patients to conveniently get refills on prescriptions without first having to go back to their doctor to determine if it’s really necessary. Another notable effort is the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that was passed in 2016 to provide more resources for prevention and treatment. While these are positive steps, opioid abuse is still a problem that demands attention.