Kantar Health Blog

Will reclassification of hydrocodone products place added burden on pain patients and the healthcare system?

by Michael Fronstin | Aug 22, 2014
Michael Fronstin

Pain is a huge market. I’ve had pain, and you have too. You might be experiencing pain right now. It’s estimated that more than a billion people worldwide are dealing with pain in one form or another. It can range from acute (like a headache) to chronic (like arthritis). It can be difficult to treat because people experience pain so differently. What one person considers mild pain, another might rate as severe.

According to our Patient-Centered Research Program, pain affects about 110 million American adults with the most common types of pain being arthritis, back, neck, joint pain and migraines to name a few. Our data also shows that patients diagnosed by a doctor report suffering for three months or longer, and a third of diagnosed people describe their pain as “severe.” 

Many people suffering from moderate to severe acute pain take hydrocodone combinations, which include Vicodin, Lortab and Norco. Just yesterday the DEA announced it would reclassify these drugs in an attempt to curb abuse. The New York Times cited federal data that more than 20,000 Americans die every year because of prescription drug abuse. The proposed change would limit prescriptions to 90-day supply vs. the current six-month supply allowed, and it would require patients to visit physicians for a written prescription because calling a refill into the pharmacy would no longer be permitted.

Opioid abuse is a concern of healthcare providers and lawmakers, and while the intent of this latest DEA decision is to reduce the volume of opiates in circulation, it is likely to burden the patient and healthcare system with potentially unnecessary visits. Patient advocacy groups have already spoken out about the change. The Wall Street Journal quoted a spokesman for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network as saying the reclassification would cause seriously ill patients to have to visit their doctors more often to receive the drugs.

Kantar Health research shows pain already has a surprisingly low treatment rate, with only approximately 23% of diagnosed patients treating their condition with a prescription medication alone and another 25% taking an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen with their prescription. These data support potential issues with efficacy, tolerability, accessibility or cost. Complicating matters is the fact that only a quarter of patients managing their pain with a prescription medication are taking it exactly as directed. This non-adherence, whether intentional or unintentional, can lead to worse outcomes. And diagnosed patients only represent half of the pain population. The other half hasn’t seen their physician, lives with pain and or attempts to treat their pain with an OTC.

Pain has an enormous impact on sufferers’ lives and the healthcare system. From a humanistic aspect it impacts quality of life from a both mental and physical health perspective as well as personal relationships. Additionally, it has a direct and indirect economic impact affecting health resource utilization and work productivity. It’s clear pain is a huge market with many unmet needs. Focusing on trying to eliminate or even reduce some of the unmet needs will go a long way toward improving these patients’ lives.  The debate continues regarding how to balance regulatory initiatives aimed at safety and diversion issues for opioids without introducing accessibility obstacles for patients who can benefit from this class of pain medications.

To learn more about the pain market, you can listen to my recent podcast with PharmaVOICE, Pharma Attempts to Ease the Pain

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