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Popular painkiller hydrocodone is now a Schedule II controlled substance

Highly addictive hydrocodone—prescribed by doctors and dentists as Vicodin, Lortab, Panacet and Tussionex -- is now a Schedule II controlled substance under New York State law. Photo by Kate Monitor

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In an effort to get a highly addictive painkiller off the streets, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alerted doctors and pharmacists on Wednesday that hydrocodone – called "hydro,” "tabs" or “itchies” by young users -- is now a Schedule II controlled substance under New York State law.

Going into effect this week, the designation subjects all forms of hydrocodone to a variety of stricter controls, including a prohibition on automatic refills. Previously, hydrocodone was classified under the less-restrictive Schedule III, meant for drugs less likely to be abused.

In 2010, more than 787,000 hydrocodone prescriptions were filled in New York City alone.

Because of its widespread availability, hydrocodone – prescribed by dentists after tooth extractions and by doctors for pain and coughs under the brand names Vicodin, Lortab, Panacet and Tussionex, among others -- has turned into a recreational narcotic drug of choice among young users across the U.S., along with oxycodone.

“Hydrocodone is highly addictive and widely abused,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “By implementing new rules for hydrocodone, including ensuring follow-up visits with patients instead of providing automatic refills, medical professionals can prevent more New Yorkers from being trapped in a damaging cycle of addiction.”

Hydrocodone, sold in pill or liquid form in combination with other painkillers like acetaminophen or aspirin, can bring on euphoria or sedation, but can also cause disturbing nightmares, extreme nausea and dangerous vomiting.

While many users suffer few side effects, Kate Monitor, an information worker in DUMBO is not one of them.

“I was prescribed hydrocodone last Thursday for throat pain and it put me to sleep,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. “I fell asleep for several hours, but when I tried to move I felt very nauseous. The nausea was so severe I couldn’t move. I tried to get to the emergency room but I couldn’t because I felt so sick.”

“I started to feel a little better about 12 hours later,” she said, adding, “I feel like I should never put it in my body again.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hydrocodone is among a group of opioid drugs that contributes to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths. The majority of drug overdose deaths, which have increased for 11 straight years, involve addictive painkillers.

Hydrocodone’s schedule change is part of the Attorney General’s comprehensive I-STOP program to fight prescription drug abuse.

For details about the new classification, visit the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement website at: www.health.ny.gov/professionals/narcotic/

February 27, 2013 - 3:25pm


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