As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, prescription opioid abuse predicts future heroin use. New laws for Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, and other Hydrocodone pharmaceuticals instituted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could increase this problem in the short term.
The DEA has reclassified hydrocodone combination products, such as Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab, from schedule III to schedule II. This reclassification under the Controlled Substances Act makes those products more difficult to obtain. Patients are required to visit the doctor more often, and physicians can no longer easily call in prescriptions to the pharmacy. In most cases, patients must present a hand-written prescription in person.
This move comes in response to epidemic-levels of misuse of prescription opioids in the United States. To put the problem in perspective, 99% of all hydrocodone produced in the world is used in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 113 people die as a result of drug overdose per day. Thousands more are admitted to emergency rooms. Prescription drug overdose has become one of, if not THE, leading causes of accidental death in America.
The Dark Side of Enforcement
One potential issue is there are some patients who genuinely need help with the most severe forms of pain. Patients with cancer are specifically in need of pharmaceutical intervention, as well as patients with other conditions that cause acute pain. However, a massive number of people using opioids do not have these conditions, and addiction is becoming a national epidemic.
There is another dark side to this reaction by the DEA. When abusers of prescription drugs can no longer get hydrocodone, they often turn to heroin. The focus of the epidemic gets shifted from one substance to another, both with very similar effects. And though prescription opioid addiction and heroin addiction rival each other, there is no dosage or quality control for heroin. Deaths and horror stories continue to happen all over America.
Opioid addiction, both prescription and not, is at epidemic levels in the United States. Law enforcement is trying to react to stem the tide, but pressures at the prescription level often push users to heroin. If you or somebody you know is having problems with opioid addiction, there is help available at this site and in centers and rooms across the country.