- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia pharmacies are dispensing significantly fewer doses of the state’s most popular prescription painkiller, hydrocodone.

The number of prescribed hydrocodone products dropped by nearly 13 million tablets last year, the Charleston Gazette-Mail (https://bit.ly/1Ux7SaG ) reported, citing new data from the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Program.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had put tighter restrictions on the medication by reclassifying hydrocodone products from schedule III narcotics to schedule II. The drug has been linked to hundreds of overdose deaths in West Virginia over the past decade.

“Instead of the doctor writing a prescription and giving the patient 180 to 240 pills all at once, they’re making them come back every couple of weeks,” said Mike Goff, an administrator at the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy. “It’s less pills in the medicine cabinet.”

Hydrocodone remains West Virginia’s No. 1 painkiller, with nearly 63 million pills dispensed statewide last year. But the number of hydrocodone tablets has declined each of the past five years. The biggest drop was last year.

In 2011, West Virginia pharmacies dispensed 99.6 million doses of hydrocodone, so the supply has been reduced by more than a third. Prescriptions of hydrocodone pills will likely drop by another 9 million by the end of this year, Goff said.

While the state’s hydrocodone numbers have dropped off, prescriptions for the painkiller tramadol have increased from less than 1 million pills to 35.5 million pills in the past five years. There has also been an increase in buprenorphine drugs including Suboxone, a painkiller that’s both abused and used to treat addiction.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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