The prominent consumer watchdog group Public Citizen is calling on federal drug regulators to restrict access to Vicodin and other hydrocodone-based painkillers.
In a press release issued late last month, Public Citizen argued that hydrocodone painkillers are overprescribed in the United States. The press release came about the same time as the FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee voted 19 to 10 to place hydrocodone in a more tightly regulated category of drugs.
The director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, testified at the advisory committee hearing, urging restrictions on the drug’s use.
“The United States is suffering from the world’s worst epidemic of prescription narcotic use, more than half of it being hydrocodone,” Wolfe said. “The reason: It can too easily be prescribed. Requiring doctors to see patients every three months to re-prescribe the drug would dramatically cut down on its misuse.”
According to Public Citizen, 99% of all hydrocodone in the world is manufactured and used in the United States. More than 2.6 billion doses of hydrocodone are taken by Americans every year, an average of eight doses per person, the group reports.
The advisory committee’s vote was to recommend that the FDA reclassify hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance, which would group Vicodin with drugs like OxyContin. It would change and limit how doctors could prescribe hydrocodone to their patients. Public Citizen and Dr. Wolfe supported the measure.
The FDA is not required to follow the advisory committee’s recommendations, although it usually weighs those recommendations heavily in its final determinations.
Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that unintentional prescription drug overdose deaths had hit “epidemic” levels in the U.S.
Misuse and accidental overdoses of painkillers like OxyContin and morphine have driven the skyrocketing numbers, with opioid painkillers responsible for more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined since 2003.
In 2007, there were about 27,000 unintentional prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States, the CDC reported. Since 2008, prescription drug overdoses have accounted for more deaths than traffic accidents.