A recent survey from IMS Health reveals that Vicodin is the most frequently prescribed painkiller in the US, with 131 million prescriptions written over the past year alone. This staggering number is partly due to over-prescription by doctors and partly due to excess demand on the part of patients who become addicted to the drug. It is disturbing to consider that a painkiller is most often taken by someone other than the patient for whom it was intended.
Vicodin and other opiates cause a surge of dopamine and endorphins in the brain, and a user becomes dependent on the drug.
The problem of overuse is made worse by the fact that Vicodin is a schedule III drug, meaning that even though it is a narcotic it is easier to prescribe and is less restricted than other narcotics such as oxycodone or morphine.
The overuse and overprescription problem is complex, but essentially results from a physician's genuine desire to keep the patient comfortable, coupled with the difficulty in determining when the problem is no longer a question of pain but rather one of addiction. It is often easier for a doctor to prescribe than to question, especially with a busy office and more patients waiting to be seen.
I am concerned about a perfectly good drug getting a bad name in the media, when the problem once again is not with the drug itself, but often with the doctor who prescribes it. This prescribing culture itself needs to be changed before a drug like Vicodin can be used properly for the right reasons.
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical correspondent