Currently a prescription for hydrocodone-containing Vicodin can be refilled five times before the patient has to see a physician again. If the drug is reclassified patients could only receive a single 90-day prescription, similar to oxycodone. The drug could also not be prescribed by nurses and physician assistants.
Panelists who voted against the classification change said it would have unintended consequences, driving addicted patients to obtain the drugs illegally.
"If prescribing decreases, illicit opioid use will increase, with dire consequences," said Dr. John Mendelson, of St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco. "I think this is a mistake and we will be back here with other problems."
Several physician and pharmacist groups also argued that new restrictions would burden medical professionals and disrupt patient care.
"Rescheduling the products to schedule II would create significant hardships for all -- leading to delayed access for vulnerable patients with legitimate chronic pain," said the National Community Pharmacists Association in a statement.
The FDA is not required to follow the advice of its expert panelists, though their input is often critical in its decisions.
FDA officials closed the meeting by acknowledging the difficulty of combating hydrocodone abuse, while keeping the drugs available for patients who legitimately need them.
"There is an unquestioned epidemic of opioid abuse, overdose and death in this country, an epidemic we need to address as a society," said Douglas Throckmorton, FDA's deputy director for regulatory programs.