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FDA panel urges new curbs on painkillers

WASHINGTON — Federal health advisers want new restrictions on hydrocodone, the highly addictive painkiller that has grown into the most widely prescribed drug in the United States.

The recommendation from a panel of drug safety specialists would subject Vicodin and dozens of other medicines to the same restrictions as other narcotic drugs like oxycodone and morphine. The Food and Drug Administration panel voted 19 to 10 in favor of the move, which is supported by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The FDA will weigh the vote in its decision-making process.

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Hydrocodone belongs to a family of drugs known as opioids, which include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, and methadone. Panelists who voted for new restrictions said it would send a signal to doctors about the potential dangers of hydrocodone drugs.

Hydrocodone is sold in combination pills and formulas with other nonaddictive ingredients like acetaminophen and aspirin. In 2011, US doctors wrote more than 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone, making it the most prescribed drug in the country.

It also consistently ranks as the first or second most-abused medicine in the United States each year, according to the DEA, alongside oxycodone.

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