Q: I have chronic back pain, and I’ve been taking Vicodin for about a year. Why are the rules changing about how it is prescribed and how often I have to see the doctor? — Henry G., Evanston, Ill.
A: Let us explain. Vicodin, a combination of the powerful opioid pain reliever hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, is being reclassified as “possibly” highly addictive and prone to abuse, and will now be considered a Schedule II drug. The current rash of abuse of prescription drugs has made it important to establish more control over how Vicodin is dispensed. Drug-related overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans ages 25 to 64 (60 percent of drug overdoses in 2010 were from prescription drugs). In 2010, Vicodin was the most prescribed medication in the U.S., with 131 million prescriptions filled.
So, instead of allowing your doc to call the pharmacy to renew your prescription every six months, these changes mean you’ll have to see your doc in person for a new written prescription, and you’ll hand deliver it to the pharmacy every three months. For people with legitimate health issues — like you, Henry — this should make little difference. You’ll continue to get the medication you need to control pain (true, with a little more effort). But seeing your doc every three months when you are taking a potentially addictive drug and have a chronic condition is better health care anyway.
It’s hoped that many people with chronic back pain will try physical therapy again, so they can relearn or retry core muscle strengthening. That way, this new regulation may help some people, maybe many, to get rid of part or all of their chronic back pain and its limitations on their life.
So we see no problem with tightening the Vicodin reins a bit and making prescribing doctors more hands-on. Good doctors won’t mind.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.