Kolodny also contends that "people who are on long-term opioids are more likely to be harmed by that treatment than helped. There is very little difference between a heroin molecule and a hydrocodone molecule."
Few people seem to dispute the fact that too many of these opioid drugs are too widely available, even though the pharmaceutical industry has recently developed "abuse-resistant" formulations to help fight misuse.
Overall, some 22 million Americans have misused prescription painkillers of one kind or another since 2002, according to a report released earlier this month by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The agency noted that prescription painkillers now rank only behind marijuana as a drug of abuse in the United States.
According to Webster, patients typically do not use two-thirds of the hydrocodone-containing medications they've been prescribed, meaning those leftover pills might become available for misuse.
"That suggests that there are way more drugs being prescribed than is necessary," Webster said. "And we know that basically 80 percent of all drugs used for non-medical purposes come from the medicine cabinet at home."
Added Kolodny, who is also chair of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City: "We have an epidemic of people with opioid addiction. That's what's really causing overdose deaths."
According to Kolodny, "changing hydrocodone-combination products from Schedule III to Schedule II may be the single most important federal intervention that could be taken to bring this epidemic under control."
Webster said he remained "seriously concerned about both of these
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