MISSOULA, Mont. - This week the federal government approved new rules for how the prescription drug hydrocodone -- the active ingredient in Vicodin -- is regulated.
The rules reclassify the pain med as a Schedule 2 drug, instead of a Schedule 3 drug. That puts it in the same class as morphine or oxycodone.
It means that hydrocodone can only be obtained in person through a pharmacy with a written prescription, not faxed or called in.
The rules also limit the length of time it's prescribed to 90 days.
The changes take effect in 45 days.
For years, hydrocodone has been a chronic pain doctor's drug of choice.
It was easy to prescribe. A nurse could call it in, and doctors didn't have to see the patient back very frequently to prescribe it.
But in that time, prescription drug addiction rates and overdoses have skyrocketed. Dr. Marc Mentel, a family physician at Community Medical Center, says physicians have learned something else about the drug.
"Over the past decade, we found hydrocodone being as problematic as morphine, oxycontin or your other medications," said Mentel, and that's why he says hydrocodone is now classified like those other drugs.
We asked him what took so long.
"Hydrocone was thought to be safer. Physicians didn't want to be burdened with having to see patients more frequently," said Mentel. "It will definitely change the way things are prescribed in the office."
Mentel tells us he supports the changes, but he and Lolo pharmacist Ross Roadarmel say they understand why some people are pushing back.
"I guess I can see both ways," says Roadarmel. "Sometimes I feel that prescribers take hydrocodone just a little too lightly. By the same token, you do have people who do need chronic pain medication, and it will make it far more difficult for us to get scripts."
That means it will make Mentel's job more difficult, requiring more frequent appointments, and direct contact with pharmacists, but he says the patient comes first.
"You can't just hit a button anymore and prescribe it. You actually have to physically take out a prescription pad. Write it down, and physically hand it to the patient. It's going to be a lot different. It's definitely for the betterment of the patient."
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