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New Study Shows Patients are Suffering Due to Hydrocodone Rescheduling

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"Hydrocodone Rescheduling: The First 100 Days" presented at 31st Annual Meeting for AAPM

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. and SAN DIEGO – Preliminary analysis of a survey of pain patients to gauge the effects of the rescheduling of hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II was presented today by Millennium Research Institute's Principal Investigator, Steven Passik, Ph.D., at the 31st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine in National Harbor, Md. The survey was conducted by the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA).

Hydrocodone has been the most widely prescribed medication in the United States, with 130 million prescriptions written annually. Hydrocodone in combination with other medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, is frequently prescribed for pain. The new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulation, enacted in October 2014, rescheduled hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II, effectively limiting patients to a smaller maximum supply between doctor visits. Patients must now see a doctor or other prescriber for each handwritten prescription renewal.

These regulations were intended to reduce criminal activity and deaths caused by drug overdoses. The findings of the survey, which collected 3,000 responses within the first 72 hours online, highlight the consequences for patients, including reduced access, higher costs due to increased doctor's visits, and stigmatization.

Key Findings:

  • Approximately two-thirds of survey responders reported inability to access hydrocodone-combination prescriptions. Patients prescribed the same medication at the same dose for many years reported that they were told their doctors would no longer prescribe hydrocodone medications for them.

  • More than 15 percent of the responders reported negative impacts on doctor-patient relationships.

  • Survey respondents cited higher expenses from more frequent doctor's visits, higher medication co-pays, greater transportation expenses for extra doctor's visits and travel to multiple pharmacies, and lost income related to inability to work due to pain.

  • More than a quarter of respondents (27 percent) reported suicidal thoughts due to being denied their hydrocodone prescriptions.

"Millennium Health provides objective clinical tools and education for doctors to enable safe and effective care," said Dr. Passik. "We believe it is important to take an educated and balanced approach to stopping the complex public health epidemic of prescription medication abuse. It's important to detect and prevent aberrant behavior, while also providing access to treatment for those patients who are legitimately in need of these medications."

To our knowledge, this is the first report of the experiences of pain patients treated with hydrocodone since this change went into effect and more research is necessary to understand the effects. This survey was conducted online through patient advocacy websites, which may have resulted in bias. Additionally, the sample is overwhelmingly female, reflecting the demographics of fibromyalgia, and the impact on male patients is not well characterized here.

An abstract of the poster is available at AAPM's website.

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21 thoughts on “New Study Shows Patients are Suffering Due to Hydrocodone Rescheduling”

  1. SiSiRN says:

    I have had patients tell me the same is happening with their Tramadol. Tramadol was the go-to drug that physicians felt comfortable prescribing to avoid scrutiny by the DEA that jeopardizes their livelihood. With rescheduling of Tramadol, this is no longer the case. When will this madness end?

    1. SweetOceanBlue says:

      I must agree with you. Having Fibromyalgia, my Rheumatologist has given me a script for Tramadol, and also Butrans patches, by which really the Tramadol really isn’t effective at all.
      What’s so frustrating of course is that due too the many BAD apples out there, that have gone through various ‘doctor shopping’, and not being responsible in taking their medications, have certainly made it bad for patients who have followed the rules of being compliant.
      Each day I suffer in pain, but what can I do, but deal with it, also many doctors today don’t believe that the patient is being honest with them & or faking, which also makes it difficult to really get the adequate assistance needed.
      Hopefully soon there will be some resolution too this madness!

    2. hamhock62 says:

      I’m 75 years old. I have taken Vicodin (hydrocodone) for about ten years due to fibromyalgia and botched back surgery. It does not completely eliminate my pain but the only other med that helps is diclofenac and I can’t take more than two a day due to the side effects. When Vicodin was re-scheduled my PCP chose not to continue prescribing it – I think because of all the red tape – and I had to start seeing a pain doctor. They sometimes treat me like a drug dealer and sometimes seem very sympathetic, like they’re not sure how to act from one day to the next. So, thanks to the re-scheduling, I have to see another doctor monthly, I’m frequently treated like a druggie, my drug and doctor expense is covered by my insurance but I’m out the time and expense of getting to the clinic, and I’m constantly afraid of running out before my next appointment. “IF” people are abusing vicodin, then the government should go after them and not us little old ladies. And, frankly, I don’t believe all the stories about abuse and overdoses.

    3. 1otterfan says:

      Just had to sign a pain manage agreement at the doc today and agree to urine/blood testing to get rx. My docs are very kind but is an 80 min round trip, now every 2 months. And that’s agreeing to the minimal dose, 1 vicodin a day which usually works unless I have a flare. Diagnosed with fibro in 1990, plus back surgery 2 years ago with chronic cervical pain. I am 58 years old, but these new restrictions make me feel like I am starting all over again, as if I’ve learned or experience nothing. So frustrating! I really don’t like to tell others about my pain, so thanks for letting me vent. 🙂

    4. Arts says:

      I have been on RA medicine for about 3 years. No medicine worked for the fibromyalgia. The rheumatologist refused to give me pain meds. Where I live the average cost to see pain management doc is $300 for first visit and $175 for each one after. I am in to much pain to work, and care for myself. I found a PM doc 2 hours away less than half the price here. I don’t feel it’s fair that I have to drive 2 hours for some pain relief.
      They do random testing, which I think is a good thing, but I have to pay another $60 to the lab. I have tried so many medicines for pain including hydrocodone. Now I am taking oxycodone/acetaminophen 7.5, can take 3 a day but they don’t help the severe pain . I may take one a day. I don’t know what my Pam doc will say when I see him on Monday.
      People who truly suffer with chronic pain, should not have to jump through hoops for help. Nor should I have to drive 2 hours for an affordable Pam doc. Then, the cost of the Rx is very expensive! I don’t have insurance, no income. A sibling helps me with basic needs. Really, it not right nor fair.

  2. psroka says:

    Why must patients who live in pain and don’t abuse their medications suffer because of someone else’s abuse? Why can’t it be adjusted on a one to one basis. Allow those of us who aren’t abusing medication to have their full prescription. Dr’s do your homework, only deny those who are abusing their medications. Don’t take it out on the rest of us!!

  3. beyondtired says:

    Nightmare..best description. I wish I had been able to participate in the survey. I have had fibromyalgia for 17 years. I have managed my pain with hydrocodone without becoming an abuser or addicted. I am dependent on the drug to help with pain management, which is my RIGHT. I am now being drug tested monthly and chastised by my doctor because my levels are not HIGH ENOUGH, yes you heard me correctly. I am not taking enough to keep steady titers per the doctor. This month I was told it “appeared” I might be selling my drugs. I am a 57 year old single woman trying to work and function as long as possible. I take them only as needed, sometimes going a day or so without one. I only get 45 a month. I asked if they would like me to become addicted and overdose to keep my levels steady??? I am very aware I live in a state of pill heads (Tennessee), but legitimate pain is exactly that: legitimate pain and deserves the pharmaceuticals available. It is becoming so stressful to go to the monthly appointment for a drug screen and then to be talked to like a pariah… But I have no choice and it is humiliating. Before the rescheduling I went every three months or so as needed. I am so sick of paying for the sins and irresponsibility of others….

  4. cazzi says:

    I am a chronic pain patient. I have had five back surgeries. My entire lumbar spine is fused, screws, rods, and cages. I also have Lupus. It is next to impossible to fill a prescription for ANY kind of pain medication. Especially at the MAJOR PHARMACY CHAINS. Florida’s laws and policies need to be looked into. Pain management Dr.s now review cases and type of insurance before you can even see them. Florida needs to be looked at the.

  5. isiskitty says:

    I’m very lucky that I have such a great pain management Dr. I have urine tests every 3 months and I do have to go every month to the office to pickup my written script. But if I have hydrocodone left over he’s pleased because it means I’m doing my exercises the physical therapist has prescribed. Most days i only need 1 or 2 tabs. Exercise is the key to using hydrocodone properly. I was diagnosed in 2003. Was on Tramadol, didn’t touch the pain. I’m a happy patient.

  6. Lizzy195 says:

    when the law change on my rx for my fibro pain med my relation with my physician after 30 years webnt south. He was so scared to treat his patients who needed chronic pain care and the office was excessive rude and abrupt each time u even called. I gave up dropped all meds and now finding new physician care which could be Google but taken so much regular Tylenol for my pain my liver elevations are up!,,so now What! Try new approach after 30 years and thought I had a plan working with flair ups but a new beginning at 63. The maintainence dose was 2 a day and working.

  7. deborahj says:

    I’m blessed to have excellent medical care from physicians who trust me and communicate with me. The law change hasn’t effected me at all. I still get my norco in the same amount, 180 a month and Fentanyl patches. Due to another doctor I had been over medicated for 8 years on Fentanyl but last year tapered from 125 down to 37 and my pain level decreased an amazing amount. I developed central sleep apnea from the Fentanyl. I only see my physician every 3 months, the other months I pick up my scripts from his office. I am drug tested once a year.
    My biggest complaint is there are non narcotic pain medications that will control my pain but insurance refuses to pay for them. They are less expensive than what I’m on now but no way can I afford them on my own. I would much prefer to be taking non narcotic pain meds if insurance would cover them.
    It makes no sense they will pay for narcotics with all the side effects and potential dangers but not for pain medication that is safer and has been shown to work in the past. I’m on disability so I have medicare and medicaid. You would think they would want to encourage non narcotic pain control.

    1. summers says:

      I am also fortunate to have pain management doctors who give me excellent care. I’ve had fibro for 14 years. I continue to get my norco and Fentanyl patches. I’m interested to know about the non narcotic pain medications that will control my pain. Could you please share your information on this subject? I would like to investigate and maybe try this. Should I give you my email or will you post here? Any help is appreciated. Thank you.

    2. brathauler says:

      I went to the same Dr for 8 years and he re located so we went to meet his replacement. I was prescribed 60 Hydrocodones a month for many years.. Along with my other meds, it was enough to usually keep my Fibro, Restless Leg and back pain tolerable. I signed the paperwork for the Hydrocodone and gave the requested urine specimen.
      10 days later, I received a registered letter from her. To my amazement, I was discharged from the practice because my 2 hydros a day didn’t show in my urine test!
      This was found to be a mess up in the lab they used, so I received a letter welcoming me back!!
      We shouldn’t have to go through this humiliation for our Hydrocodone!

    3. laurieh775 says:

      I completely agree with the others on the board that are suffering because of this change. Hydrocodone is the only med that helps me the most. I was on them regularly and now all of the sudden I’m treated like an addict and my Dr will not prescribe them to me anymore. I really take offense being treated as a drug addict when all I need is pain relief. I don’t abuse it. Running out at the end of prescription was like omg will I run out? The stupid policy at office is they need 5 days for narcotic refills but you can’t call till the day your out! This is crazy! I need pain relief! My fibromyalgia is active, I’m trying to stay very active but I’m in pain. I was given tramadol which hardly touches the pain. Now muscle relaxers of all things, which make me feel tired and not right in my head. Had to stop taking them only at night when I go to bed. Why do we have to suffer because of others who abuse it? I don’t abuse it and it helps more than anything else.

    4. meagem says:

      I have a script that i had to beg for …got it in Oct. and still have some left. been using it sparingly. This like the gov. trying to have gun control ..only this is meds. plus now we here, not sure about the rest of you, have a huge co-pay before our insurance kicks in and then its 20/80…. I do use herbs to help out some. but I’m sure if I find something that will work the gov. will find out and take that away also !

    5. CMMARCIA says:

      Because my in laws were prescription Med junkies I now have a hard time explaining my need for pain relief meds due to fibromyalgia to my family . Family thinks I just want to “get high on loratab”. Dr thinks I wont take them correctly because of in-law history. If I even suggest pain management dr family goes ballistic b/c of bad rep they get and think it will reflect on me and them. At this point I don’t care. I’m in pain and I really don’t give a flip. Just give Drs back their ability to care for the patient

  8. BABYCAT123 says:


  9. LOLABLUE says:

    I have incurred two rear-end collisions, the first resulting in two back operations. My pain has been getting worse and worse even though I had these two operations in 2004 and 2010, if my memory serves me correctly.

    Also, I one rear-end collision has caused neck problems and deterioration. In the past six months or so, I’ve had a striking pain in my left shoulder related to my neck problem as stated by my doctor. I have to put a certain kind of salve on this shoulder every day (Voltaren).

    When I had prescriptions for Hydrocodone Acetamin–10/500–I was doing well with my pain. All of a sudden, I was given 325’s, which do nothing for my pain. I’ve even taken two of them, and they do not cover the pain and suffering I am experiencing from the cut-off of my prior prescriptions.

    I have a very low threshold of pain, meaning I feel pain more than most people; my father was the same way. There must be a hereditary link respectively.

    Why is the government catering to drug users rather than patiens who REALLY need this medication? Is this the real reason? If so, it irks me to no end that the government would do this. I have been on this drug for several years without any problem until I was unable to get it anymore. My doctor, instead, prescribed Oxycodone. However, it’s not as good for me.

    I want the government to keep their hands off meds that doctors prescribe for their patients. It’s none of their business, and to force patients to suffer and try to seek a different pain killer is terrible. I just want to scream when I see government interference with doctors’ prescriptions that help people.

    Take off the ban and allow Hydrocodone 10/500 to be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. Why would the government try to limit valid use of a medication prescribed by doctors just so they think illegal “users” won’t have access? Believe me, these people always find a way to get their illicit drugs! And here I am suffering each day with incredible back pain and can’t obtain the one medication that helped me so much.

    I’m bitter about this entire government stranglehold on patients who are in great pain and unable to obtain the medication that was helping them greatly. Government, keep your hands off the medical community–you have no business causing legitimate patients to suffer intensely because you think you can eliminate illegal drug use. You’re catering to the miserable crappy drug users without thinking of people who desperately need medications their doctors prescribe to them.

    Government’s attempts to squash drug users from obtaining our
    meds. have failed miserably. Has anyone thought of the patients who really need the medications you ban? The users will find a way to satisfy their addiction–be it going to Mexico, just one country, and grabbing all they can for a price. Who’s idea was this? Was it the Obama administration? If so, it’s just another ridiculous move on the part of the President.

    1. walkermb03 says:

      The change in this is the amount of Tylenol not the hydrocodone potency. You can take 175 mg of Tylenol with your hydrocodone 10/325 and it will be equivalent to hydrocodone 10/500. They made these changes on all of the medications with Tylenol due to liver damage associated with longterm use of high doses of Tylenol.

    2. gaydot1957 says:

      I understand that the people that have abused hydrocodone have made it so very difficult for the ones that are honestly suffering and in need of this medication. With that being said, I do believe that if our physicians are truly interested in helping us live some quality of life they would know who is abusive and who actually needs the medication. I have been going thru a trying time because of my meds being cut back and all of my drug screening and anything else they ask me to do has been a one. I’am a 57yr old grandmother and I didn’t ask for any of this.

  10. cash96 says:

    Hi ! I really wish I could show this comment to my pain doc! Last week when I went for my monthly visit, he told me that the month before NONE of my pain meds showed up in my urine test! Nothing except the Gabapentin! They do urine tests every month there& I take two different meds for pain…two strong pain meds! There’s no way that test could be accurate! I got my first “warning” because of it….you get 3 warnings then they won’t see you anymore! Everyone assumes that a Doctor’s office or anyone affiliated with doctors, DON’T MAKE MISTAKES! But they do!

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