Vicodin – Top Prescribed Painkiller Flies under the Radar

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It’s no secret that America has been numbing itself with painkillers. Last year narcotic prescriptions were doled out by doctors in the millions – 244.3 million to be exact. That’s enough narcotics to cover about 80 percent of the general population, including men, women, and children. The problem has gotten so bad that the Obama administration has recently declared America’s prescription drug problem an epidemic.

IMS Health is an international company that provides data and consulting services to members of the pharmaceutical industry. A report released by IMS Health earlier this week documents some of the most widely dispensed prescription medications in the country. Opiods analgesics were among some of the most popular to make the list, namely generic Vicodin, generic Percocet, and the all-too-familiar Oxycontin.

Opioids are part of a group of pain killers that work by suppressing the perception of pain in the central nervous system. Recipients develop an increased pain tolerance. The drugs also produce a sense of euphoria that lends itself to dependency, and this is why opioids are some of the worst with regard to habit formation, leading to addiction.

The report showed that generic Vicodin was America’s leading prescription, with over 131 million prescriptions filled. Interestingly, it is one of the only opiates listed under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule III list. The DEA has developed a categorized list of controlled substances with Schedule III being the least restrictive and Schedule I being the most restrictive. Heroin, for example is classed as a Schedule I drug, while drugs such as morphine and oxycodone fall under Schedule II.

ABC News suggests that’s part of the problem. Because Schedule II drugs are more closely regulated and scrutinized, they are not as readily dispensed as Schedule III drugs like Vicodin. Even Percocet, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, is classed under the more strict Schedule II rating.

Vicodin is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Ironically, hydrocodone by itself is a Schedule II drug. Dr. Eugene Viscusi, Thomas Jefferson University’s director of anesthesiology, gives the DEA’s explanation for classing it as such. He advises that acetaminophen in excess carries the risk of liver damage, so the DEA placed Vicodin in a less restrictive class because it figured no one would want to take on that risk. But how many people abusing prescription medications actually care about the harm they’re inflicting on their bodies?

Instead of cocaine or heroin, addicts are seeking out prescription medications such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. And, the rate of fatal overdose from these prescription drugs is even greater than cocaine and heroin combined. Currently, opiod overdose ranks as the second largest source of accidental death in the U.S., just behind motor vehicle crashes.

As long as Vicodin remains one of the easiest to prescribe opiates on the market, the problem is not going away. Opiate analgesics alter judgment and can leave many addicted, and Vicodin is no exception. While Vicodin is beneficial for certain individuals, it is not for everyone and should be monitored as strictly as Percocet and Oxycontin.

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