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Jay, Joe bill intends to reclassify hydrocodone painkillers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A proposed "Safe Prescribing Act of 2013" sponsored by West Virginia's senators will reclassify hydrocodone painkillers, including Vicodin and Lortab, from Schedule III to Schedule II controlled substances, reflecting their high potential for addiction and abuse.

Sen. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., are original co-sponsors of the bipartisan legislation introduced in both the Senate and House to fight prescription drug abuse by tightening restrictions on some of the most addictive narcotics.

"We got the bill passed through the Senate last year, but we did not get it through the House," Manchin said during a telephone interview with the Gazette.

After he spoke before an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Maryland in January, Manchin said 19 out of 29 committee members voted in favor of making hydrocodone a Schedule II drug.

Emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse rose from 38,000 to 115,000 between 2004 and 2010. Hydrocodone drugs are now the most widely prescribed painkillers in the country.

Prescriptions for Schedule II drugs can be issued for only 30 days. A physician will be allowed to give a patient three 30-day prescriptions at one time. But after that, the patient must go back to the physician's office to get prescriptions renewed.

"If you still have that much pain after 90 days, you should see a doctor to see if something else is wrong," Manchin said. "Those who really need the pills will only have to go back four times a year under the new law.

"What we are doing will shut down doctors who have been irresponsible in giving prescriptions out like candy, helping people become addicted."

Some people with hydrocodone prescriptions, Manchin added, regularly sell the pills illegally to other people.

"This is not going to cure our drug problems, but it will help to get a lot of hydrocodone out of the pill-mill circuit. We know hydrocodone is very addictive.

"This legislation will bring some accountability and transparency to the process," Manchin said. "Something needs to be done. It is long overdue. Responsible businesses understand that and are working with us."

Rockefeller said, "As I travel across the state, I continue to hear devastating stories about how prescription drug abuse is tearing apart families and communities. The pains of those struggling with prescription drug abuse and addiction weigh heavily on me, especially when it involves our young people.

"We must do everything possible to stop this epidemic. This bill is another important step in the fight to end prescription drug abuse in West Virginia," Rockefeller said in a press release.

The Safe Prescribing Act of 2013 is also co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in the Senate and by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., in the House.

Under the new legislation, patients would need written prescriptions to receive all hydrocodone-related painkillers, except in cases of emergency.

Pharmacists must also require patients to present original prescriptions for all refills, while drug traffickers would become subject to harsher fines and penalties.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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