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New DEA Rule Leaves Patients in Pain

My Dad took the term “spring break” literally.

About a month ago, my 61-year-old father fell off a ladder while trimming some trees. After several long hours in the ER, he learned that his leg was severely injured and would require surgery. He was sent home with some painkillers and instructions to call the orthopedic surgeon first thing Monday morning.

After calling the surgeon, my parents learned that they would not see the doctor for almost a week. While the mental pain of waiting was tough, the physical pain was arguably worse. The painkillers given to my father at the hospital would not last that long. To obtain more, he was required to make a trip to the doctor’s office for a prescription. The problem is obvious—“getting to the office” is not an easy proposition when your house has stairs and one leg is nonfunctional.

Had this accident happened a year ago, his doctor could have called the prescription into the pharmacy, where my mother could have picked up the painkillers. This past October, however, the DEA decided to change a variety of painkillers from Schedule III to Schedule II drugs. This change, though seemingly small, requires, among other things, that patients be seen by a doctor before getting a prescription. Prescriptions for Schedule II medications cannot be called or faxed into a pharmacy, and doctors may only write prescriptions for a 30-day quantity.

Abigail Hall Blanco is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa.