New Restrictions on Painkillers Increase the Illegal Trade of the Drug

Doctor not giving drug, increase illegal drug trade.

The primary reason we are in the drug and alcohol addiction epidemic that we are currently in is that of pharmaceutical drugs. There is no sense sugarcoating this, not when this is very much so the truth of the situation. Prior to the turn of the century, our drug abuse problems were not nearly as prominent as they are now. Furthermore, they revolved almost completely around hard narcotics and highly illegal substances. Now, our biggest drug problems are actually with legal drugs, not illegal ones.

It took about twelve years to figure this out on a nationwide level, but just as often as prescription drugs cause help and benefit to people, they can also cause problems. In the last eight years alone, massive action has been taken to drastically reduce the supply of prescription drugs in the U.S., as overprescribing of highly addictive painkillers and antipsychotics is what brought on the 21st-century addiction epidemic in the first place. However, a crippling side effect of massive pharmaceutical drug prescribing has been that of pharmaceutical drug addiction.

A Good Plan with Poor Side Effects

As the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and other groups have worked together to take massive action to reduce the number of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S., the black market sale and covert diversion of prescription drugs absolutely skyrocketed.

Pills rise

The DEA thought that, by changing the Scheduling classification of hydrocodone (the most common type of painkiller) to a Schedule II drug, people would use it less and doctors would prescribe it less. While some doctors might have begun prescribing it less, the sudden change in how the drug is viewed actually cause the sale of the drug to skyrocket on the black market.

According to a direct quote from the DEA report and their representatives:

The scheduling change in hydrocodone combination products coincided with a statistically significant, sustained increase in illicit trading of opioids through online U.S. cryptomarkets. These changes were not observed for other drug groups or in other countries.

The DEA Had Good Intentions

It was a good thing that the DEA reclassified hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. This is something to be pleased about. This is the first time a federal organization has really done something that admits that these drugs are actually quite dangerous and risky. However, what could not be predicted was the massive increase in the trade of hydrocodone on the black market as a result of restricting access to the drug across legal channels.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two million Americans were using pharmaceutical pain relievers every day in 2016. Numbers for 2017 have not yet been fully tabulated. Of the sixty-three thousand Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2016, more than one-quarter of them were from opioid painkillers. This is a problem and something that we need to address soon.

What We Have to Do Now

According to the DEA’s report and overall analysis of their recent change with hydrocodone:

“In a context of high demand, supply-side interventions are therefore likely to push opioid users toward illicit supplies, which may increase the harms associated with their drug use and make monitoring more difficult.”

With the move to an illicit market, it becomes more difficult to track individual use of prescription opioids and to offer treatment and help to users. Drug users adapt to their changing environment and are able to source drugs from new distribution channels if needed, even if that means by illegal means. In a context of high demand, supply-side interventions are therefore likely to push opioid users toward illicit supplies, which may increase the harms associated with their drug use and make monitoring more difficult.

What this tells us is that in our approach to tackling the drug problem, we cannot rely only on making prescription drugs harder to get across legal channels. People will just find a way to get those drugs illegally. We need to find a way to reduce the nation’s reliance on drugs. The DEA openly admits that “supply-side” intervention tactics that make drugs harder for people to get never really work in the long run, given that addicts are extremely resourceful. We have to address the demand for these drugs, first and foremost.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.