Hydrocodone, is the most widely prescribed painkiller in the United States and is an ingredient in drugs like Vicodin.
The rule places hydrocodone in a tougher, more restrictive category. Doctors will no longer be able to call in prescriptions by telephone, and patients will not be allowed to get refills on the same prescription, but will have to return to a health care professional to get a new prescription. The drug will have to be kept in special vaults in pharmacies.
The Drug Enforcement Administration published the rule on Thursday and it will take effect in 45 days.
“This is substantial,” said Dr. Nathaniel Katz, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “It’s a sign of a shift toward more cautious opioid prescribing. This will be an inconvenience to some, but policy is a machete, not a scalpel, and you have to figure out where to use it. I think people will be more helped than harmed.”
Abuse of painkillers now claims the lives of more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to federal data, and the number of Americans who die from prescription drug overdoses has more than tripled since the late 1990s.