Sunday, February 15, 2004

The DEA can't stop meddling in the practice of medicine. They are now working to reschedule one of the most widely prescribed pain medications in the US.

Top DEA officials confirm that the agency is eager to change the official listing of the narcotic hydrocodone -- which was prescribed more than 100 million times last year -- to the highly restricted Schedule II category of the Controlled Substances Act. A painkiller and cough suppressant sold as Lortab, Vicodin and 200 generic brands, hydrocodone combined with other medications has long been available under the less stringent rules of Schedule III.

The DEA claims this is necessary to thwart prescription drug abuse. An absurd argument to justify the undue burden it would impose on hundreds of thousands of patients with legitimate medical conditions, who do not abuse the medication.

Pain specialists and pharmacy representatives say that the new restrictions would be a burden on the millions of Americans who need the drug to treat serious pain from arthritis, AIDS, cancer and chronic injuries, and that many sufferers are likely to be prescribed other, less effective drugs as a result.

If the change is made, millions of patients, doctors and pharmacists will be affected, some substantially. Patients, for instance, would have to visit their doctors more often for hydrocodone prescriptions, because they could not be refilled; doctors could no longer phone in prescriptions; and pharmacists would have to fill out significantly more paperwork and keep the drugs in a safe. Improper prescribing would carry potentially greater penalties.

Drug addicts always find a way to get their drugs. Just ask Rush Limbaugh. Rescheduling will simply increase demand in the black market for that pharmaceutical and raise the prices; which will only further profit the dealers who trade illegally in them.

Those who will suffer are the most vulnerable patients, the elderly and disabled from rural areas who already must travel long distances to see their doctors and all those who truly suffer from debilitating pain and will be unable to find physicians willing to jump through the DEA's hoops in order to prescribe them.

Susan Winkler of the American Pharmacists Association voices her concerns. She said, "We urge the DEA to make sure their decision is based on science and will make the situation better, not worse."

We fear her plea will fall on deaf ears at Prohibition Central. This malicious manipulation of medical protocols, callously endangers the medical care of our most vulnerable citizens. The drug war warriors however, seem determined to raise their arrest statistics by persecuting these easiest of targets.

It's senseless and infuriating. If the DEA is so bloody intent on eliminating prescription drug abuse, why aren't they out there investigating in the back alleys and parking lots where these transactions occur, instead of haunting hospitals and doctor's offices hunting for offenders?


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