PAINKILLER LAW: D.E.A. WINS TODAY; PATIENTS WILL LOSE TOMORROW

The FDA today concluded its highly watched two-day meeting on prescription drug abuse, notably – and erroneously, in PAINKILLER LAW’s opinion – endorsing a hardline proposal from the D.E.A. If the D.E.A. gets its way, and hydrocodone is reclassified as a Schedule II drug, patients will lose, and access to needed medication will be callously impeded.

The D.E.A has been pushing for this change, and the FDA panel by a close vote of 19 to 10 may be mistakenly coming around to the the D.E.A.’s position. Advocating similar change is a prominent doctors’ group, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). But the coincidental joining of these two forces – cops and docs – doesn’t make the idea any more credible. This proposal if implemented could rigidly and with unreasonable orthodoxy deny thousands of legitimate pain patients access to the medicine they need. PROP and the D.E.A. in this instance seem to trust no one but themselves to decide for everyone else what medicine should be taken and for how long.

A direct and intended consequence of the D.E.A. proposal is that only MD’s could prescribe even Vicodin from now on. That means if you had dental surgery coming up, and your dentist told you it was going to be a tough recovery, he or she wouldn’t be able to give you even a few days’ worth of Vicodin for head-splitting midnight pain. You’d have to get that from your MD, after the pain was already knocking you over, or you’d have to get to the E.R. in the middle of the night to seek some relief. Why must the D.E.A. presume that ordinary citizens can’t be trusted to not become addicted to opioids even though they’re only given a three-day dose for acute pain?

This also means that if you see a physician’s assistant for your medical care, that person would no longer be able to write for certain pain medications, at all, ever. Is that reasonable? Is the D.E.A. making a competency judgment about licensed professionals? Is the agency dismissing the state legislatures and medical boards that have determined the legitimacy and licensing standards for PA’s in every state in the Union? Does the D.E.A. not care that frequently, PA’s serve patients in medically underserved communities? Did the D.E.A. not get the memo: That legislative support for PA practice often stems from the precise policy goal of getting qualified healthcare providers to those communities who need them most but have them least?

The best course is for the FDA to reject the D.E.A’s proposal. Expect the D.E.A., possibly PROP, and others to in good faith continue to pursue ultimately unsound idea. And remember that no amount of good intentions makes a bad idea better.

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