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FDA panel votes to approve new restrictions on hydrocodone, oxycodone

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted to recommend new restrictions on the opioid painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone. The panel said that the new safety guidelines were needed because of the high number of painkiller overdoses and addictions among users of the two drugs.

In a 19-10 vote, the FDA panel voted to reclassify both oxycodone and hydrocodone (also known as Vicodin) as schedule II controlled substances, meaning the drugs would face new rules on handling and storage and that doctors would be able to prescribe fewer pills at one time. Currently, both drugs are schedule III controlled substances.

Prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are among the deadliest prescription drugs in the U.S. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid painkiller overdoses were responsible for more than 16,000 deaths in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available. Vicodin, a mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, is the most widely prescribed drug in the U.S.

The FDA has taken other steps to limit the number of overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers. In December 2012, the agency voted against granting approval to a pure version of hydrocodone, fearing that the medication could be widely abused. The agency will also soon make a decision as to whether it should allow generic versions of two commonly abused painkillers—OxyContin and Opana—from going on sale in the U.S.