FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 18, 2012
SCHUMER, JOINED AT SENATE HEARING BY BUFFALO RX DRUG ADVOCATE AVI ISRAEL, SECURES ENDORSEMENT FROM DEA OFFICIAL TO MAKE HYDROCODONE A SCHEDULE II DRUG - MAJOR STEP TOWARDS CRACKING DOWN ON PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE
Vicodin Is Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drug By High School Seniors in the US; Despite the Fact that Oxycodone Is Classified as a Schedule II Drug, Drugs Like Vicodin that Contain Hydrocodone Are Not, Making Them Easier To Illegally Steal & Abuse
At Hearing, Where Israel Testified on Son’s Hydrocodone Addiction & Tragic Death, Schumer Receives Commitment From Top Drug Enforcer for Rescheduling Hydrocodone; Announcement Puts FDA On Notice To Stop Dragging Its Heels And Finally Take Action to Reschedule Hydrocodone
Schumer: WNY Father’s Plea and DEA Announcement Mark a Huge Step Towards Finally Cracking Down On Prescription Drug Abuse
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer today, joined by Buffalo prescription drug advocate Avi Israel at a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, received, for the first time, public support from a top official at the DEA to reclassify drugs containing hydrocodone, like Vicodin, from Schedule III to Schedule II. At the hearing, Israel delivered a moving testimony about his son’s struggle with chronic disease and subsequent dependence on prescribed narcotics, including hydrocodone. Israel’s son, Michael, took his own life on June 4, 2011 because his doctors were not properly trained to administer the highly addictive prescriptions, and treatment services for Michael were scarce. Schumer invited Israel to put a human face on the widespread movement to crack down on prescription drug epidemic and to designate drugs like hydrocodone as Schedule II.
“Coming fast on the heels of Avi Isarel’s compelling testimony, this DEA announcement, is a huge step towards finally making it more difficult to abuse and steal drugs like Vicodin that contain hydrocodone,” said Schumer. “A Buffalo father’s heart-wrenching story about his son’s death due to ill-informed doctors who prescribe addictive drugs reminds us that we can never rest in our fight to crack down on hydrocodone and similar substances. We all know that prescription drug abuse is getting worse, and I’m relieved the DEA supports the move to further regulate the sale of drugs like Vicodin. It boggles the mind that hydrocodone is not considered a Schedule II drug while drugs like oxycodone are. With today’s announcement by the DEA, the ball is now in the FDA’s court to finally step up to the plate and reclassify these drugs.”
Despite the fact that a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that Vicodin was the most commonly abused drug by High School seniors, and although Oxycodone is currently classified as a schedule II drug, Vicodin and all other drugs containing partial amounts of hydrocodone are classified as Schedule III drugs, meaning that the drugs can be refilled over the phone and are not stored securely. Rescheduling hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug would require patients to bring in a doctor’s original prescription and would also require that the pills to be stored more securely. The FDA has considered rescheduling hydrocodone for four years but has yet to act – Schumer’s announcement that DEA Deputy Assistant administrator Joseph Rannazzisi endorses this policy puts significant pressure on the FDA to reschedule these drugs.
Avi Israel, father of Michael David Israel from Buffalo, NY, was one of seven national experts and advocates who offered potential policy action to address the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Israel testified alongside Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Joseph Rannazzisi, Deputy Assistant Administrator with the DEA, Rep. Mary Bono Mack co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, John Eadie, Director of the Prescription Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University and other prescription drug abuse advocates.
Schumer invited Israel to share his story about how his 20-year-old son took his own life in June of 2011 after fighting addiction to hydrocodone, which his doctors prescribed him for Crohn’s Disease. Avi Israel spoke about how a working, real time prescription monitoring database may have informed his son’s multiple doctors regarding the various different drugs he was prescribed. Avi and his son repeatedly sought help for Michael’s addiction, but failed to ever receive the necessary support from doctors, insurers and treatment centers.
Hydrocodone is one of the primary causes of the prescription drug abuse crisis, and is found in popular medications such as Vicodin. Despite the obvious risks of hydrocodone-combination substances, only pure hydrocodone is currently listed as a Schedule II drug, making the combined substances far too easy to obtain and less securely stored. These drugs are classified as less-restrictive Schedule III drugs, whereas pure hydrocodone is included in Schedule II.
In order to reschedule a substance, the FDA must complete an eight factor analysis which includes a recommendation regarding the scheduling of a substance. Following the FDA’s recommendation, the DEA is then supposed to enforce it, but there is no timeline for how long the FDA can take to study and present its recommendation. The FDA has said it has been considering whether to reschedule the substance for four years. Schumer argued that given the worsening of the prescription drug crisis, the FDA needed to finally make a decision on this issue.
Schumer announced today that head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control Joseph Rannazzisi endorsed rescheduling hydrocodone as a Schedule II substance at a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, signaling a major step forward in the fight against prescription drug abuse. The proposal would eliminate the exemption in Schedule III for substances containing hydrocodone, which includes combined hydrocodone and acetaminophen or ibuprofen drugs. This means that an original, written prescription would be needed to refill orders for these drugs, with call-in refills no longer being acceptable. This requires that a person must be under the supervision of a doctor while taking these potentially dangerous and abusive prescription drugs, and would help crackdown on the abuse of these drugs. This proposal would also increase the security of the distribution chain of hydrocodone, making the theft or diversion of large quantities of hydrocodone pills much more difficult.
Schumer noted that today’s move marked the first time anyone at the DEA has publically endorsed rescheduling hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug, an important step in the effort to pressure the Food and Drug Administration to reschedule the drugs. Schumer noted that the DEA’s endorsement of the policy change today should put the necessary pressure on the FDA to make the change. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has also been pushing the FDA to reschedule the substance, but the FDA has refused to act.
The rescheduling of hydrocodone is one of many Schumer efforts to combat pharmaceutical theft and prescription narcotics addiction in New York and the country. Schumer also proposed and passed the SAFE DOSES Act, which will combat theft of prescription drugs at every point of the drug supply chain. The Senator is also co-sponsoring legislation, with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), that would require medical professionals to participate in specialized training to prescribe drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other opiate-based narcotics. Additionally, Senator Schumer has successfully started prescription drug education programs in New York to crack down on the epidemic.