What the DEA rescheduling of Hydrocodone products to Schedule II means for you

Posted on August 25, 2014


In the U.S, there is a progressive five-category system put in place by the congress for controlled substances, classified as Schedule I through V. There are classed in decreasing order of potential psychological or physical dependence, where Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence and Schedule V drugs have the lowest potential for abuse. 

Schedule I drugsare illegal in the U.S. because they have high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns. Therefore Schedule II drugs (e.g Oxycodone, Morphine, Adderall) are the currently the highest class of controlled substances on the U.S. pharmaceutical market.

On Friday August 22. 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that all hydrocodone-containing products will move from Schedule III to Schedule II.  The new rule becomes effective on October 6, 2014; about 42 days from today, and according to the DEA, the objective of this ‘up-scheduling’ is to reduce the recreational use of the drugs, while still ensuring that chronic/severe pain patients still have reasonable access to the amount of drug needed to control their pain and suffering. 

This issue has been deliberated on for over 10 years, and its proponents have argued that it will help prevent these highly addictive pain killers from getting into the wrong hands and devastating families and communities. Opponents on the other hand, have expressed concerns that practitioners will now be less likely to prescribe hydrocodone products, and start prescribing less effective drugs. Chronic pain patients also worry about costs and what it will mean for their pocketbooks, considering they may have to make more visits to the doctor per year.

It is important to note that Hydrocodone is currently the most prescribed drug in the United States. Therefore, if you are a patient currently taking a hydrocodone product, here are some things you need to know about the change:

  • This new rule puts Lortab, Vicodin etc in the same drug class as Morphine or Oxycodone, therefore your doctor will no longer be able to send a fax or call in these prescriptions over the phone. You will need to bring in a written/hard copy prescription.
  • ONLY in an emergency, your doctor CAN phone in a 72-hour prescription for a Schedule II drug and then follow up with a written prescription for it.
  • Your doctor will no longer be able to put multiple refills on your hydrocodone prescription
  • However even without refills, you may still not have to go to your doctor every month. Your doctor can write a series of prescriptions that are dated on the same day, but with a “do not fill date until a xx-xx-2014 future date” written on it. While It is not a refill, he can write up to three prescriptions like this on the same day, covering you for a maximum of a 90-day supply.
  • Cough suppressants containing hydrocodone such as Hycodan, PennKinetic, Mycodone, Tussigon and Tussionex will also be affected.
  • At this time, Codeine is the only pain-reliever left in Schedule III, and is therefore the only pain reliever that can still be called or faxed in.
  • These changes do not take effect till October 6, 2014.
  • If you are a chronic pain patient, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about how this change may affect you personally.

What are your thoughts about this schedule change? Do you think it will benefit or hurt the patient/consumer? How about its effect on Health Care Professionals?