Hydrocodone combination analgesic prescriptions have dropped by 22% since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reclassified the products from schedule III to schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Matching the drop in prescriptions, the number of dispensed hydrocodone combination product tablets also declined by 16%. Those figures are based on the amount of prescriptions and products dispensed 12 months after the DEA’s rescheduling occurred. They are part of a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, to examine the implications of the rescheduling. The authors analyzed a national sample that covered nearly 80% of all dispensed retail prescriptions.

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The decision to reschedule these drugs became effective in October 2014, and came in the wake of growing hydrocodone combination product-related abuse incidents. In 2011, emergency departments across the U.S. registered almost 100,000 visits due to abuse of hydrocodone combination products. Prescription opioid abuse has long been identified as a major public health problem in the U.S.

The authors assessed the level of prescribing before and after the rescheduling. They found that the number of hydrocodone combination prescriptions had slowly declined by 8.4% in the 3 years before rescheduling occurred, and the number of dispensed tablets declined by 6%. However, the plunge of 22% in prescriptions and 16% in actual tablets, in the 12 months after rescheduling; represents a dramatic change.