Picking on one drug won't do the trick, but picking on hydrocodone is a particularly bad idea, because the DEA's proposals could well kill more people from pain than they save from abuse.
How much pain and suffering does hydrocodone mitigate? There were 100 million new prescriptions for the drug last year in the United States, given to 38 million patients. (This doesn't even count in-hospital use.) Hydrocodone is by far the most prescribed drug in the nation.
Because there will be no more refills, DEA's proposal means at least 300 million office visits per year (figuring that most chronic pain prescriptions are refillable twice). Nowadays, one just doesn't walk in and out of a doc's office. Most pain doctors are so busy that appointments must be made months in advance, and appointment, travel and waiting easily burn half a day. That's 150 million worker days lost. Based upon average annual wages, employers will pay ( and you and I will shoulder ) about $13 billion in wages for doctor-visit induced absenteeism. And the office visits will add another $20 billion in cost, payable through the patient's insurance or someone else's taxes.
Add this to the fact that, according to Katherine Foley, a pain expert at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, pain already costs Americans $100 billion per year in treatment costs and labor-related losses. Making pain relief harder to get will only make it more expensive.
How risky is hydrocodone? According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a systematic effort to procure objective information on drug-related deaths, hydrocodone showed up in 46 bodies last year in Las Vegas, a town surely prone to a bit of drug abuse. The number of hydrocodone pills prescribed there in 2001 was around 27 million, and this doesn't even count the huge number that fly in with tourists, gamblers and others who engage in risk-taking behavior every weekend. I'd say it's a good bet that more people die in legal casinos and brothels in southern Nevada from heart attacks than are killed by hydrocodone.
Some other state data can be used to make fuzzy estimates of abuse-related deaths. In 2002, there were 150 findings of fatal concentrations of hydrocodone in postmortem examinations in Florida. Assuming conservatively that this may catch half the deaths, and way too conservatively that "Miami Vice" Florida is typical, this would maximize the number of deaths per year associated with fatal concentrations of this drug at around 6,000 nationwide.
But that may be just one tip of the iceberg. Pain raises blood pressure and researchers have found that every 10mm increase in systolic blood pressure results, on the average, in a 40 percent increase in risk of stroke and a 30 percent increase in risk of heart attack for your age class.
Copyright © 2005 DEA Sucks