January 31, 2016

Drug Epidemic: Reclassification Making a Difference | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

When the federal government finally took long-overdue action in late 2014 to reschedule the highly addictive hydrocodone-combination drugs from schedule III to schedule II narcotics, the hope at the time was that the change would play a significant role in curbing opioid abuse. And the change is helping, according to new report released last week.

The study found that the number of opioid prescriptions in the nation has been reduced by 26.3 million, or 1.1 billion tablets, since the approval of the final rule to reschedule hydrocodone-combination drugs. That’s a significant and welcomed decrease. The research, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, was published in a JAMA Internal Medicine report last week.

The push to reschedule hydrocodone was led by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, who fought from 2012 to 2014 to get the scheduling change approved. The change was urgently needed given the deadly scourge of prescription drug abuse in the Mountain State.

In the Mountain State, drug overdoses claim the lives of more than 600 West Virginians per year. And of the 628 drug overdose deaths reported in the state in 2014, most were linked to prescription drugs; 199 were oxycodone-related, and 133 were attributed to hydrocodone, according to statistics compiled by Manchin’s office.

West Virginia also had the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths of any state last year at 31 deaths per 100,000 people. The next closest state was New Mexico, at 25 deaths per 100,000 people. The number of drug overdose deaths — a majority of which are from prescription drugs — in West Virginia increased by 605 percent between 1999 and 2010.

“These reductions in opioid prescriptions are a direct result of rescheduling hydrocodone-combination drugs from Schedule III to Schedule II,” Manchin said last week. “We are on the right path forward to curbing opioid abuse but more needs to be done. We must go after this problem from every angle — family assistance, counseling programs, consumer and medical education, law enforcement support, state and federal legislation. We have a responsibility to stop the scourge of prescription drug abuse and I will continue to do everything I can do to end this epidemic.”

We, too, are pleased to see the welcomed reduction in opioid prescriptions since 2014. With hope this number will continue to decrease. In the meantime, all efforts must be made, as correctly noted by Manchin, to continue the fight against this deadly tide of prescription drug abuse.