New regulations taking effect this week are making hydrocodone, Mississippi's most commonly used prescription painkiller, harder to get. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, it’s an effort to curb prescription drug abuse, but it could make life harder for some patients.
The Drug Enforcement Adminstration has made hydrocodone-based painkillers, such as Vicodin and Lortab, schedule 2 drugs. That means, in Mississippi, refills, including most phone refills, aren't allowed. Guflport surgeon Paul Mace says hydrocodone is one of the milder narcotic painkillers, which is why he prescribes it for pain after surgery.
"What will happen now with this change is, if you've had elective surgery or you were discharged from the hospital, and you go through your pain prescription and you're still having discomfort, and you call your provider at night or on the weekends, it's going to be just about impossible to get a prescription and take that to the drug store and get it filled," he says.
Still, Dr. Mace says he understands why drug officials are making this change. The Centers for Disease Control have called prescription painkiller abuse a national epidemic.
Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Sam Owens says hydrocodone is the most commonly prescribed painkiller by far, and that's reflected in enforcement.
"We work prescription forgery and doctor shopping cases, and 90 percent of those cases are about hydrocodone," he says.
Robert Donovan is resident agent in charge for the DEA in Gulfport. He thinks people who need the painkiller will still be able to get it, but the change should make it harder for those abusing it.
"It is a problem, this drug is very addicitive," he says. "So it's something that needs to be addressed, and the DEA, in addition to rescheduling the drug, we have enforcement groups called tactical diversion squads that are designed to solely adress these problems, and we've been having some good results."
The state Bureau of Narcotics say 119 million dosage units of hydrocodone were prescribed in Mississippi last year.