Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


March 24, 2013

Drug epidemic —  Hydrocodone reclassification a necessity

— The Safe Prescribing Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure that seeks to re-classify hydrocodone combination products as schedule II controlled substances, is a step in the right direction when it comes to fighting the deadly scourge of prescription drug abuse. It merits full support and passage by Congress.

The measure is being co-sponsored  by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin,  -W.Va., U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. When the proposed legislation was originally introduced in 2012, it ran into opposition from lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives who heard from pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors. Since that time, efforts have been made by Manchin and other lawmakers to reach out to those who opposed the bill a year ago, and to explain how the measure would not keep patients with legitimate medical needs from receiving hydrocodone-containing narcotics.

Hydrocodone combination products are currently classified as schedule III drugs — making their distribution more widely accessible and easier to be abused. Under the proposed new rules, 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.

However, Manchin also notes that the new rules will not keep seniors, miners, disaster victims and those who suffer from debilitating injuries and rely on medication for chronic pain from having access to the medicine they need. It simply seeks to keep the highly addictive narcotics from those who are illegally abusing them.

The proposed legislation also would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct an oversight study on how the change impacts legitimate use of pain medication, particularly for patients in rural areas and nursing homes.

When it comes to the drug abuse epidemic, action is urgently needed. Consider the most recent statistics.

In West Virginia alone, 512 citizens died from a drug overdose in 2010 — a 353 percent increase since 2000. Emergency room visits associated with prescription drug abuse have increased by 33 percent in just six years and painkillers now result in more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, Manchin said last week. And police confiscations of prescription drugs have increased almost 31 percent in just nine years.

Emergency room visits linked to hydrocodone abuse rose from 38,000 in 2004 to more than 115,000 in 2010. Adding to the crisis is the fact that hydrocodone-containing drugs are now the most widely prescribed painkillers in the United States.

Will the passage of this all-important measure bring an immediate end to the rampant abuse of prescription narcotics? Absolutely not. But it is a step in the right direction. And the measure has strong support from many physicians, law enforcement groups, addiction specialists and others.

All lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — should support this well-intended and critically needed measure in both the House and Senate. Reclassifying hydrocodone from a schedule III to a schedule II narcotic will help. And anything that can help stem the deadly tide of prescription drug abuse should be done as quickly as possible.

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