Vice Squad
Monday, February 16, 2004
DEA Plays Doctor Again

I think that access to some potentially addictive drugs should be strictly controlled --though the drugs should remain legally available, and without a prescription, to adults. An article in today's Chicago Tribune (via the Washington Post; registration required) reports on the DEA’s intention to reschedule the painkiller hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. This rescheduling will severely tighten the conditions under which hydrocodone is available via prescription. Hydrocodone use can easily become a problem for people, as it did for Rush Limbaugh. But tightening the prescription regime, I think, is an inappropriate response (even ignoring my general unease with making a drug legally available only by prescription.) The article notes that hydrocodone was prescribed 100 million times last year, and no one suggests that more than a tiny minority of these prescriptions were "abusive." Hydrocodone is obviously a painkiller that millions of patients and their doctors think is quite valuable for them. To make hydrocodone harder to get – for instance, the rescheduling would mean that prescriptions could not be refilled without another visit to the doctor – ensures that these people will receive a lower level of care.

The DEA, it seems, wants to ensure that Americans must live with more pain than is necessary. (Here’s a previous Vice Squad post on the DEA’s campaign against pain treatment, and here is the main webpage of the Pain Relief Network; a march on Washington on behalf of patients in pain is slated for April 18-20, 2004.) It’s not pure sadism, oh no, the DEA has a "noble" purpose. What is that noble purpose? To try to make it a little harder for other Americans to consume a drug that they want to consume.

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