In a nationwide effort to curb drug addiction, tighter restrictions are being placed on a commonly used narcotic.
Statistics show 100 people die every day from a drug overdose in the United States. Three out of 4 of those are caused by prescription painkillers, but a big policy change is expected to have a nationwide impact.
For many years, hydrocodone-containing products have been widely used as painkillers. It is usually mixed with acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but because of the addictive nature of the opiate, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is putting tighter restrictions on it in hopes of reducing the number of drug overdose deaths across the nation.
"This is in response to what is happening across the nation,” said Dr. Michael Dolan, with Gundersen Health System.
Over the past 20 years, drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than tripled.
"If you look at the statistics, patients die of opiate overdose much more often than they die of gunshots and drunk-driving accidents,” said Dolan.
Dolan said for the last five to 10 years, hydrocodone-containing products, which are commonly prescribed as painkillers, have become the most abused.
"We've known for quite a while that those medications are clearly in the high-abuse category,” said Dolan.
"People can sometimes struggle to see the harm in drugs because they are prescribed by doctors,” said Keith Lease, executive director of Coulee Council on Addictions.
Now the DEA is moving hydrocodone-containing products to a more restricted category: from a schedule III drug to a schedule II drug.
"The different drugs are placed into schedules that kind of categorize them for their level of abuse, addictiveness and their medical properties,” said Lease.
Right now, hydrocodone-containing products can have up to five refills for a six-month supply, and the prescriptions can be phoned or faxed in. When it moves to a schedule III drug, there will be no refills.
"Schedule II requires a written prescription, and it must be delivered to the pharmacy in person or in hand,” said Dolan.
"It should allow doctors to be able to monitor the use and so that should cut down on the abuse and the doctor-shopping,” said Lease.
But for the millions of people who rely on hydrocodone to manage their pain, the drug isn't going anywhere.
"There are some people because of other medical conditions, like hypertension, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, can't use things like Aleve, Advil or Motrin,” said Dolan.
However, it will now be monitored under a closer eye.
"They are still very useful, but we just have to be very cautious in how we use them,” said Dolan.
Dolan said changing a drug's restriction is only one part of the solution. That is why they participate in Wisconsin's prescription drug monitoring program.
It allows doctors from all over the state to see who is using opiates so they can make sure they don't overprescribe addictive medication
The new tighter restrictions will be placed on hydrocodone-containing products by October.