New Hydrocodone Restrictions Expected: How Will They Affect You?

Patient Expert

Hydrocodone, the most commonly prescribed opioid pain-reliever in the U.S., is currently still classified as a Schedule III drug. That means you can fill or refill a prescription that contains hydrocodone for up to six months after the date on the prescription and it can be refilled up to five times. Your doctor is allowed to call or fax the prescription to your pharmacist or give you a written prescription.

Those things are all likely to change soon. Late last year, the FDA announced it was going to submit a formal recommendation package to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reclassify hydrocodone-containing products, such as Vicodin and Lortab, into Schedule II.

Schedule II drugs are subject to much more stringent restrictions. Some ways in which these restrictions will impact you include:

  • All prescriptions must be written. In an emergency, the doctor may call in a prescription but it must be followed by a written prescription within seven days.

  • No refills are permitted. However, if your doctor chooses, he/she can write up to three separate sequential 30-day prescriptions for you.

  • You will have to visit your doctor in person each time you need a another prescription. That means if you take hydrocodone on a daily basis, you'll have to see your doctor at least every three months--perhaps as much as every month if your doctor is not comfortable giving you three written prescriptions at a time.

The reclassification of hydrocodone to Schedule II is expected to be approved sometime this year. When the FDA approved Zohydro ER, the first extended-release form of hydrocodone, last October, it was classified as a Schedule II drug right out of the gate.

Why am I telling you about these changes before they're "official"? I wanted to give you a heads-up so you'll know what to expect and you won't be blindsided. You may even want to discuss the proposed changes ahead of time with your doctor.


"Statement on Proposed Hydrocodone Reclassification from Janet Woodcock, M.D., Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research." FDA Website. October 24, 2013.

Wingerson, Lois. "Hydrocodone Restrictions: What Will Happen and What You Can Do." Rheumatology Network. December 20, 2013.