Hydrocodone Causing an Epidemic

Much like the trends seen in fashion, one might say that, similarly, addiction trends wax and wane over the years. For instance, one generation’s cocaine epidemic gives way to the next generation’s heroin epidemic in the endless ebb and flow of substance abuse. 

Unfortunately, this means that by the time we find ways to try to curb the abuse rates of one substance, there’s another substance rising in popularity that could soon be taking its place. Despite the bleakness of this seemingly unending pattern, there’s comfort in the fact that no matter what the substance to which an individual is addicted, he or she can benefit from a wide range of treatments and programming that are intended to alleviate the profound effects of addiction while helping individuals to overcome their dependencies.

The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

In the 1990s, opiate painkillers became a central component of much of the healthcare industry. These stronger and more efficient medicinal pain treatments resulted in a major shift in perceptions of care with both patients and providers believing that individuals should be alleviated of pain at any cost.

As such, these medications—which had previously been infrequently prescribed and, therefore, didn’t have much data to warn of their addiction potential—were prescribed to patients more and more frequently. Although there were many cases in which individuals experienced a much better quality of life as a result of opiate painkillers, we would soon discover that the widespread use of these medications came at a very high price.

Within a decade, rates of opiate addicted skyrocketed. Individuals who were prescribed opiate painkillers became virtually unable to stop taking them since the use of opiate painkillers as a regular, daily treatment for chronic pain also meant that these individuals developed a physical dependency on the substances.

It also didn’t take long for individuals to discover the potential that opiates had for abuse, which meant that a number of people began “doctor shopping”—seeing multiple doctors in order to receive duplicate prescriptions—to either feed a growing opiate habit or sell their surplus painkillers on the street.

Since doctors had become so liberal with prescribing painkillers, a number of painkillers that were sold on the street illicitly became astronomical. In a matter of years, painkillers had become a nationwide epidemic and a major concern of physicians, public and government officials, and law enforcement.

According to statistics provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have admitted to abusing painkillers at some point in their lives with 6.1 million having abused them over the past month. In 2010 alone, there were enough opiate painkillers prescribed to sufficiently medicate all American adults every four hours for a month.

Although the epidemic has recently shifted from opiate painkillers to heroin—a number of formula changes have made many painkillers abuse-proof while federal policy changes have resulted in most physicians being much less quick to prescribe or over-prescribe pain medication—opiate painkiller abuse remains a major concern.

What Is Hydrocodone? The Center of Painkiller Epidemic in America

When the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about one-third of first-time drug users aged 12 and older abused opiate painkillers as their first illicit substance, painkiller abuse and addiction was quickly classified as an epidemic by the Center for Disease Control.

Moreover, over the years hydrocodone became and remained the most-prescribed opiate painkiller in the United States, which resulted in special attention being paid to hydrocodone in particular. In fact, the International Narcotics Control Board determined that 99 percent of the world supply of hydrocodone was consumed in the United States alone.

Until recently, medications in which hydrocodone was the only ingredient did not exist. Hydrocodone was only found in what were referred to as hydrocodone combination pain relievers (HCPs), which were medications that contained hydrocodone in addition to paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. Traditionally, hydrocodone combination pain relievers were classified as being Schedule III, or a low-to-moderate abuse potential, as long as a dose contained 15 milligrams or less of actual hydrocodone.

However, the 2014 approval by the FDA of the controversial Zohydro made it the first painkiller available to be made purely of hydrocodone, resulting in it being classified as a Schedule II substance due to it having an incredibly high potential for abuse.

Putting a Leash on Hydrocodone with New Classification

Officials recognize that the drug is very useful in medical applications and for the treatment of severe chronic pain, but it has also had a central role in the nation’s painkiller addiction epidemic, prompting an evaluation of the regulations and classifications surrounding the drug. As mentioned, hydrocodone had traditionally only ever been available in the form of a Schedule III drug due to being a hydrocodone combination product.

With Zohydro being definitively a Schedule II substance, many wondered whether all hydrocodone combination pain relievers should also be considered Schedule II even if they contained less than 15 milligrams of actual hydrocodone.

Moreover, the fact that hydrocodone has remained the most commonly abused opiate painkiller despite traditionally only having been available in combination drugs has prompted a re-evaluation of the drug’s classification. The evidence would suggest that any drug containing hydrocodone has a strong abuse potential and value on the black market in spite of the acetaminophen and ibuprofen that those drugs have always contained.

In short, the classification of hydrocodone combination drugs as Schedule III didn’t seem to reflect the reality of the situation, which is that hydrocodone combination drugs are abused more frequently than other painkillers, many of which are classified as Schedule II while being abused far less frequently. The change of any drugs containing hydrocodone of any amount to a Schedule II classification was intended to make it slightly more difficult to obtain prescriptions of these drugs and, therefore, to curb their high rates of abuse.

Find Peace in Recovery with Drug Treatment Center Finder

Although all drugs carry the potential for addiction, some are inevitably more highly addictive than others. It’s important to be aware of the abuse potential of even prescription medications so that individuals can protect themselves from the devastating effects of dependency. However, if you or someone you love is addicted to painkillers or another substance and would like to learn about treatment options, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help.

Call today at 855-619-8070 to speak with one of our recovery specialists, who can help those in need to find the treatments and programming that can deliver them to lives of health, sobriety, and happiness.