THURSDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet Thursday and Friday to discuss the fate of certain painkillers that contain an opioid known as hydrocodone.
At issue is whether to reclassify some of these drugs -- which include the commonly prescribed Vicodin (hydrocodone plus acetaminophen) -- into a higher category of danger for misuse or abuse. Other opioid painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Percocet, are already classified in that higher category.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration requested that an FDA advisory panel undertake the review; currently the drugs are classified as Schedule III drugs but the agency wants them placed within the more tightly controlled Schedule II designation. The FDA is not required to follow the recommendations of its advisory panels, but it typically does.
The painkiller issue has become a contentious one.
Supporters of a move to Schedule II status point to tragic deaths and suicides that have been the result of misuse of these prescription drugs.
But, opponents of that tougher classification fear that tightening access to the drugs would mean that people who really need them to ease pain will not be able to get them.
"This is really a decision of access versus diversion [for non-medical use]," explained Dr. Lynn Webster, president-elect of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, who says his organization is not necessarily in favor of or opposed to reclassification.
However, "it will have an impact on a lot of patients who have been receiving them for some time for legitimate purposes" if these drugs are reclassified, Webster added.
But Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, called such concerns "completely bogus."
"Even if we change hydrocodone-containing products from Schedule III to Schedule II, it in no w
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