Hydrocodone medication restrictions start Monday

DEA puts tighter restrictions on hydrocodone-containing products

The fight against prescription drug abuse across the nation gets a boost as tougher regulations on painkillers containing hydrocodone officially go into effect on Monday.

For many years, products containing hydrocodone have been widely used as painkillers but due to their addictive nature, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is putting tighter restrictions on it.

Here are a few things patients should know before the new rules go into effect next week.

Statistics show 100 people die every day from a drug overdose in the United States and three out of four of those are caused by prescription painkillers.

“One of the ways they could cut down on the increasing, literally skyrocketing death rate from narcotics was that they could move hydrocodone products, which is probably one of the most abused of the narcotic medications, up to schedule two,” said Dr. Michael Dolan, an internal medicine physician with Gundersen Health System.

Under its current ranking, patients can have up to five refills in a six-month window for products containing hydrocodone. Plus, the prescriptions can be phoned or faxed in.

On Monday, patients will no longer be able to get medications containing hydrocodone in a refillable format.

“They will have to be written for a one-time only fill for a one-month supply and any refills would require a new written prescription from the physician,” said Dolan.

“In essence, it should help cut down on doctor-shopping on people abusing those prescription medications,” said Keith Lease, the executive director for Coulee Council on Addictions.

But for those who rely on the medication, some are worried that the new rules will prevent them from getting their much-needed medication.

“The fear that I have is for people who aren’t going to abuse it or aren’t addicted to it, it may make it more difficult for them or cause them to take a couple extra steps to get it,” said Lease.

But Dolan said it shouldn’t have an impact, especially in emergency situations.

“Certainly patients on hospice or in long-term care facilities who are terminally ill, you will be able to fax hydrocodone prescriptions for those patients,” said Dolan.

It’s an extra step many believe is a step in the right direction.

“I think the benefits outweigh the negative consequences,” said Lease.

“I think it’s important that people realize that the access to those medications will be there. It will just require that extra step to get that written prescription on a monthly basis,” said Dolan.

Here’s an important note: In general, any prescriptions for products containing hydrocodone written before Oct. 1 technically can be refilled for the next six months, but that is up to the pharmacy’s discretion.

Prescriptions written on or after Monday, Oct. 6, will not be refillable.

The new DEA regulations also impact the local drug drop-off boxes. There are currently seven prescription drug drop-off boxes in La Crosse County that collect unused prescription medication, Monday through Friday.

However, the DEA is no longer funding the disposal of the medication collected.

 “We would collect them in the medication take back days that usually coincided with the DEA’s take-back days. We would collect them and hand them over and the DEA would pay for the disposal and now that has gone away,” said Lease.

Local officials said there is definitely a need for these boxes in the area and are working hard to find a funding solution. Every department that has a drop box is determined to keep the program running.