By Kyle Lanzit
On Feb. 23, the State of New York changed the legal status of hydrocodone—a popular pain-killer that is often mixed with pain relievers like acetaminophen—from a Schedule III to a Schedule II Controlled Substance. The federal government uses the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 to classify drugs based upon their perceived level of dependance, among other factors. Heroin and psychedelics are considered the most unsafe and have the highest potential for abuse. Drugs listed in Schedule II include cocaine and morphine, while anabolic steroids and ketamine are examples of Schedule III substances.
In the wake of the New York law, the federal government is looking to do the same. As of publication, pure hydrocodone is federally listed in Schedule II, while the compound version of the drug is listed in Schedule III.
The law, known as I-STOP, was implemented in response to widespread abuse of compound drugs like Vicodin and Dolacet. Under Schedule II regulations, patients are no longer permitted to receive refills for their prescriptions.
As Union’s Health Services Director Angela Stefanatos explains, “The debate always was in my private practice: Do you give refills of hydrocodone? The thought is, if you have chronic pain you should be assessed every month. You should come in, you shouldn’t get refills.”
Although Health Services occasionally prescribes hydrocodone to students, the office policy is to limit these prescriptions to small amounts (four ounces) of syrup for severe respiratory conditions like bronchitis. Stefanatos was clear about how she thinks the law will affect the Union community: “I don’t think there’s going to be a big impact on the official flow of hydrocodone to the students.” Despite repeated attempts to reach a representative, Campus Safety was unavailable for comment on this point.
What is clear is that the drug is likely to continue to be abused by those who disregard the law. Stefanatos, who has first-hand experience from a previous job, explains, “I know it has a decent amount of ‘value’ on the streets, so to speak. In private practice I had patients who would come in for pain medicine and then [we] would drug test them later and they would test negative so [we] knew they were selling it.” Whatever happens, the Federal Food and Drug Administration will certainly monitor New York state’s bold new law as they consider implementing their own version of I-STOP.