The illegal recreational use of prescription medications has steadily risen in the U.S. over the past two decades. The Centers for Disease Control report that approximately 500,000 people visited emergency rooms in 2004 due to the non-medical usage of prescription drugs. Just four years later in 2008, that number had doubled to approximately 1 million. Of those, more than 300,000 of the visits involved the use of opioid analgesics, including hydrocodone.
Many people abuse Vicodin because it is easy to attain, whether from a friend, parent, dealer, or their own doctor. In fact, USA Today Reports that hydrocodone has become the most widely prescribed drug in the United States, with an estimated 131 million prescriptions written for the medication every year. To ensure there is a steady flow of the drug, some will obtain multiple prescriptions by seeing several doctors independently of each other and picking up the prescriptions at multiple pharmacies – some of which offer a 30-day supply of generic Vicodin for as little as $4 without health insurance.
Individuals use Vicodin either for its pain numbing effects, or more frequently, to achieve the ‘high’ they get while the substance is in their systems. Because Vicodin is an opioid, it produces a sense of euphoria when taken. In high quantifications, a Vicodin high can be quite intense, providing a tremendous sense of perceived well-being. Though it is produced and prescribed in tablet form, Vicodin pills may also be crushed to either snort them, smoke them, or inject them.
Because tolerance to hydrocodone develops rather quickly with continued use, Vicodin is commonly combined with other opioids or substances to achieve a better high. Opioids interact synergistically with other drugs to enhance the effects felt. Unfortunately, this type of poly-drug use is very dangerous and is responsible for many emergency room visits and deaths each year.
According to a 2004 Drug Abuse Warning Network report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 3 out of 4 Vicodin-related visits to emergency departments involved the use of additional substances, the most common of which are alcohol, benzodiazepines, other opioids, and cocaine.
Reclassifying the Drug
Due to its dangers and high risk for addiction and dependency, the Drug Enforcement Agency has asked the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone from its current Schedule III classification to Schedule II. Doing so would make a hydrocodone prescription available only through a physician – not a nurse or physician assistant. Furthermore, hydrocodone would no longer be refillable up to 5 times. Instead, patients would only be allowed a single prescription at a time with enough medication to last up to 90 days.