The FDA is proposing new restrictions on hydrocodone.  Specifically, they are recommending that medications such as Vicodin be put in the same category as narcotics like morphine and oxycodone. 

“The main thing that’s been happening is they’re seeing a huge increase in overdoses, especially among women, who are using opioid pain pills,” says Dr. Angela Stotts of University of Texas Medical School at Houston, where she teaches and conducts research in behavioral and pharmacological treatments for substance use disorders.  She’s been following the FDA’s examination of hydrocodone for some time.  “[Opioid] use for women is five-fold for the last ten years, and for men it’s about 3.6 times higher.”

For years hydrocodone has been combined with non-addictive substances like aspirin or acetaminophen, which made it an easy go-to drug for doctors to prescribe for all sorts of pain, anything from surgery to a toothache. By 2011 it had become the number one prescribed drug in America, 131 million prescriptions in a nation of about 300 million people.  80% of the opiates produced in the world are consumed by Americans.  It’s become an epidemic with a dark side. 

Upright citizens who have never done drugs in their life followed knee replacement surgery with hydrocodone prescriptions and found themselves addicted to a drug that does not give up its victims easily.  By the same token there are individuals with crippling chronic pain that could not function without hydrocodone.  Some people need this drug, some people have become addicted through no fault of their own, and the FDA is about to make their access far more cumbersome.

“There are two sides to this debate,” says Dr. Stotts.  “There are pros and cons. It will be an increased burden on health care providers and pharmacies, and on people with chronic pain that use opiates to treat them.  That’s the individual level.  On the societal level, there are costs.  Treatment for opioid addiction, dependence, overdose, emergencies and death. It’s kind of a Catch 22.  It’s trying to figure out what’s going to be best for society.”