STORY BY KRISTIN FIPPS
As a pharmacy technician, student and now pharmacist intern, I commonly see individuals with a drug addiction.
Hydrocodone with Acetaminophen (HCP) is prescribed more than any other medication.
This drug, commonly used to treat pain, beats out other frequently prescribed drugs by nearly 40 million prescriptions a year.
In 2012, one HCP prescription was written for every 2.3 men, women and children in the United States.
The problem with prescribing this specific medication is that while it is most effective in the treatment of pain, it is also one of the most addictive prescription drugs.
While the workloads expected of pharmacies will increase with increased sales of the drug, the safety and overall health of patients is much more important.
On Oct. 6, 2014, hydrocodone combination products became a schedule-II drug.
The schedules of drugs are distributed between five different classes, determined by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The classes are placed into five categories organized by the drug’s medical use and its potential for abuse and dependency.
Switching HCPs from a schedule-III to a schedule-II meant that the medication became more challenging to acquire.
The idea to change the class of this medication came up 15 years ago. The notion has been thrown around ever since then, and the decision was made last August to change the medication from a schedule-III to a schedule-II.
The hope behind the decision is that a stricter guideline on the most prescribed drug in the United States will help to lessen the number of addictions and misuses commonly seen with the drug.
Moving hydrocodone combination products to a schedule-II medication will decrease the number of individuals prescribed the medication, but harm public safety.
While the number of individuals becoming addicted to the pain medication may decrease, the number of people threatening pharmacists and doctors will increase.
Edward Heckman, a registered pharmacist, said, “… moving HCPs to schedule-II will decrease the utilization and impact patient access.”
By making the process more difficult, patients will not want to go through the extra steps required of them to get the drug.
However, patients who believe they need the drug (legitimately or not) will suffer if they run out of the medication on weekends or holidays and cannot get ahold of their doctor for refills.
The number of pharmacy break-ins and robberies will increase.
Although schedule-II medications are most commonly stored in safes or vaults, after the new law passed the DEA said, “… the main security risk and concern was after hours break-ins.”
Pharmacists speaking out on the issue believed that this change would increase their work load and delay access to patients who honestly utilize this medication.
And yes, that was a legitimate concern.
The American Society of Consultant Pharmacists said, “…this will dramatically increase the restrictions on prescribing and dispensing practices for hydrocodone combination products.”
The concern lies within the ability to get prescriptions out in a timely matter.
With so many patients being prescribed this drug, the new restrictions placed way more effort on the pharmacy as a whole.
The switch between schedules for hydrocodone combination products may have required more time and effort, but will minimize the abuse and dependency commonly seen with the drug in the long run.
The change was just put into place, but the hope is that over time it will overall decrease the number of individuals abusing the drug and will hopefully put a stop to Americans being “drunk”