Pharmacist Barry Shapiro of Idyllwild Pharmacy alerted the Town Crier last week to new federal regulations moving medications containing hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II. This includes pain medications such as Lortab, Norco and Vicodin, and cough medicines such as Tussionex.

This change in schedules is part of a program to cut down on the misuse and abuse of prescription medications. It is due to take place Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, less than three weeks from now.

This is important to those suffering from chronic pain because in California, prescriptions for Schedule II drugs must be written — not telephoned, faxed, emailed or otherwise transmitted by computer — and they cannot be refilled. This means a patient in California must make a physical trip to their prescriber to obtain a written prescription each time they need a refill, then have it hand-delivered to the pharmacy.

Shapiro said he expects this change to directly affect people with chronic pain who are undergoing pain management. He anticipates that in response to this new regulation, many prescribers may attempt to shift patients onto a pain medication not on Schedule II.

In California, in addition to physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners may also write prescriptions for Schedule II drugs, if they also hold a Drug Enforcement Administration license.

Shapiro also cautions against attempting to obtain hydrocodone drugs from non-licensed suppliers in the U.S. or from suppliers in foreign countries, as it will not likely be possible to determine the source, purity and efficacy of such drugs.

The Therapeutic Research Center suggests that patients currently taking drugs containing hydrocodone talk to their prescribers before Oct. 6 in order to avoid problems this schedule change may cause. It also recommends that patients consult their pharmacist to answer questions such as how long hydrocodone drugs remain good or the number of doses or days’ supply that may be filled at one time.

For prescriptions written before Oct. 6, it may be possible to obtain refills for another six months, until April 8, 2015, so a consultation with one’s pharmacist is recommended.