CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A move by the federal government will restrict the prescription of painkiller hydrocodone drugs, like Vicodin and Lortab, the number one prescribed controlled substance in West Virginia.
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration will make the announcement Friday that it’s moving hydrocodone from Schedule III to the more restrictive Schedule II.
West Virginia Board of Pharmacy Executive Director and General Counsel David Potters said the new classification will impact how the drugs are stored, stocked, transported, prescribed and dispensed.
“The whole idea to is cut down on the amount of supply available in the medicine cabinets at any one time,” he said.
Hydrocodone is at the top of the list of prescribed drugs in West Virginia. Potters said it also is the most diverted and abused.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin applauded the reclassification.
“Today was a tremendous step forward in fighting the prescription drug abuse epidemic that is rampant across West Virginia and our country,” Manchin said in a news release. “As Governor and now as U.S. Senator, I have diligently fought to stem the tide on the prescription drug abuse, and rescheduling these highly addictive drugs will help prevent them from getting into the wrong hands and devastating families and communities.”
Schedule II drugs are not allowed to be refilled, a prescription is required each time. Also, in many cases, only doctors can prescribe them.
“It is removing it from the prescriptive authority from many of the mid-level practitioners if not all of them,” Potters said.
Under Schedule II the written prescription expires in 90 days and at pharmacies many of them are kept in locked safes or cages. Potters added making a drug a Schedule II also gives physicians a cause to pause and consider prescribing it.
“It tends to push them to think, ‘Do I really want to prescribe this? Or do I want to prescribe something that has been found by the DEA to be less addictive and less subject to abuse?”
The new rule is expected to be announced Friday and take effect in 45 days.
Potters said West Virginia’s hydrocodone problems come from the excess that’s found in homes across the state.
“More than 70 percent of all of the controlled substances that are diverted are taken from, given away from or sold from our families’ medicine cabinets,” he said. “They’re not stolen from pharmacies or stolen from warehouses.”
Sen. Manchin said he has seen the pain the abuse of hydrocodone-combination drugs can cause in West Virginia communities. He said the finalization of the rescheduling is a major step in the right direction.
“Although there is much more that must be done to curb prescription drug abuse, I am confident that rescheduling hydrocodone will undoubtedly begin saving hundreds of thousands of lives immediately,” Manchin said.
The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that limits hydrocodone drugs to no more than a 30-day supply and no more than two refills. Potters said that law would stay into effect along with the new classification.