There may be a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against opioid addiction. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the number of deaths from prescription pain relievers dropped 5% in 2012, the first decline since 1999. This is in contrast to a three-fold increase in the United States from 2001 to 2011, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The Department of Health & Human Services is taking steps to address the opioid problem through an initiative that focuses on:
- Providing training and education and updated guidelines to help health professionals make informed prescribing decisions;
- Increasing the use of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of excessive use of opioids; and
- Expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment that combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance abuse disorders.
One of the other drivers behind the decrease in deaths from prescription pain relievers may be the shift of hydrocodone-containing combination products from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act to the more tightly regulated Schedule II by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), effective Oct. 6, 2014.
DEA stated that the change affects several hundred brand-name and generic hydrocodone combination products, including cough suppressants that are currently marketed in the United States.
According to DEA, the rescheduling serves to alert prescribers, pharmacists, and others to the potential for addiction and highlights the need for careful monitoring and evaluation of use of the combination drugs.
Prescriptions for hydrocodone combination products that were written before October 6 may include refills, but not if they were dispensed after April 8, 2015. Prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances are only allowed for 30 days maximum.