Hydrocodone rescheduling takes effect Oct. 6



Physicians should ready themselves now for the new set of rules expected when hydrocodone-containing products become subject to tighter regulation on Oct. 6, according to various physician groups.

After a years-long process, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced in late August that it would be moving hydrocodone-containing products from schedule III to schedule II.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny
Dr. Andrew Kolodny

That rule takes effect on Oct. 6.

After that date, physicians who want to prescribe HCPs will have to use tamper-proof prescription forms, or use e-prescribing programs. They can call in a 72-hour supply, but must follow that up by mailing the prescription to the pharmacy. Refills by fax or phone are otherwise prohibited.

Patients who are on long term HCP therapy can get up to a 90-day supply through three separate, no-refill prescriptions.

The American Medical Association, which campaigned against the rescheduling of HCPs, is now urging its members to be prepared for the changes in prescribing and work flow that will come with the new landscape.

In a fact sheet, the AMA says that physicians should try to refill prescriptions before Oct. 6, noting that these prescriptions will essentially be grandfathered in under the old rules until Apr. 2015.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology in early September also notified its members of the coming changes, and said that it, too, had opposed rescheduling of HCPs.

Many physician groups have said that moving HCPs to schedule II will not stop abuse or diversion and may hurt patients who have a legitimate need. Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that “it’s hard to say,” whether upscheduling will make a dent in inappropriate or unnecessary prescribing.

He said in an interview that his practice already requires patients on long-term opioid therapy to come in at least every 3 months for refills and an evaluation. Although physicians may have to change their practice schedules to accommodate refill visits, those visits are good opportunities for education and follow-up, said Dr. Blackwelder.

Requiring face-to-face visits “creates more opportunities to review a treatment plan and make sure it still makes sense,” he said, noting that for many patients, short-acting opioids are the wrong medication.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, for one, is applauding the rescheduling of HCPs, saying that the explosion in prescriptions for HCPs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) has been the single biggest contributor to the rise in opioid addiction.

“I think this is going to have an enormous impact on bringing the epidemic to an end,” Dr. Kolodny, chief medical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation and director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said in an interview.

He noted that many opioid addicts get their start with HCPs, in part because they are ubiquitous.

The schedule change will bring “a sharp reduction in prescribing of hydrocodone-containing products,” because “it will communicate to prescribers that this drug is every bit as addictive as the other opioids, and needs to be prescribed cautiously,” said Dr. Kolodny.

Dr. Kolodny disclosed that Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing does not accept any industry funding. It is a financed as a Phoenix House program.

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