Q: I have chronic back pain, and I've been taking Vicodin for about a year. Why are the rules changing about how it is prescribed and how often I have to see the doctor?
— Henry G., Evanston, Ill.
A: Let us explain. Vicodin, a combination of the powerful opioid pain reliever hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, is being reclassified as “possibly” highly addictive and prone to abuse, and will now be considered a schedule II drug. The current rash of abuse of prescription drugs has made it important to establish more control over how Vicodin is dispensed. Drug-related overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans ages 25 to 64 (60 percent of drug overdoses in 2010 were from prescription drugs). In 2010, Vicodin was the most prescribed medication in the U.S.; 131 million prescriptions were filled.
So, instead of allowing your doctor to call the pharmacy to renew your prescription every six months, these changes mean you'll have to see your doc in person for a new written prescription, and you'll hand deliver it to the pharmacy every three months. For people with legitimate health issues — like you, Henry — this should make little difference. You'll continue to get the medication you need to control pain. But seeing your doc every three months when you are taking a potentially addictive drug and have a chronic condition is better health care anyway.
So we see no problem with tightening the Vicodin reins a bit and making prescribing doctors more hands-on. Good doctors won't mind. And you shouldn't mind the slight inconvenience, either. Chances are you'll wind up with better treatment.
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