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Recently, an expert advisory panel voted 19 to 10 to recommend the FDA move to toughen restrictions on painkillers, such as Vicodin, which contains hydrocodone. According to The New York Times, this would make drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin more difficult to prescribe and, ultimately, reduce the numbers of people becoming addicted to such painkillers.

Opponents to the measure noted that making the drugs more difficult to prescribe could pose a disadvantage to patients experiencing constant, severe pain. Certainly, the change will pose challenges for physicians, pharmacists and patients. Without new prescriptions, refills of painkilling drugs would be prohibited. Additionally, storage security measures would also be required by pharmacies. A disadvantage could be in the manner that nursing home patients would be treated, according to Tavernise, “frail residents with chronic pain would have to make the trip to a doctor’s office.” In addition, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners would not be able to prescribe the drugs which could be problematic for already under-served patients in rural areas. (New York Times, 1/26/13)

Currently, painkilling drugs are responsible for more American deaths than hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine together, according to Tavernise, and “drug-induced deaths have outstripped those from traffic accidents” since 2008. (New York Times, 1/26/13) The number of deaths due to prescription drugs has quadrupled since 1999.

Not only scientific experts such as Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center, New York, testified before the advisory group’s hearing, championed the tougher restrictions, but family members of victims to painkiller addictions, and lawmakers. Senator Joe Manchin III, the former governor of West Virginia, made a plea for tougher restrictions noting that the painkilling drugs were so available in his state that under-age children could get them more easily than beer or cigarettes. (New York Times, 1/26/13)

This is an issue that, depending upon whose ox is gored, will be controversial no matter the final decision. The real question is, what is in the best interests of American citizens? That is a loaded question, with many variables, including safety, economics, and societal ramifications. Let's see what the FDA does.

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