Why Is There an Ongoing Hydrocodone Shortage?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 17, 2023

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There is a widespread shortage of the painkiller medication hydrocodone in the United States, with drug manufacturers failing to provide clear reasons for the scarcity.

The persistent shortage of opioid pain medications in the United States remains largely unaddressed by the federal government, with no concrete steps taken to bolster opioid production. Rather, opioid production quotas have been cut for seven consecutive years, despite complaints from patients and healthcare providers. The DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) reported in late 2022 that opioid supplies in the U.S. would be reduced by a further 5% in 2023.

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In October 2023, the opioid shortage appears to be worsening and it can be attributed to various factors. Tightening regulations, efforts to prevent diversion, and limited production due to cut quotas have all driven the persisting shortage. Beyond this, the lack of clear communication from pharmaceutical companies and the DEA, along with the absence of federal action to increase production, has compounded the issue, leaving patients and healthcare providers grappling with the consequences of limited access to essential pain medications, and in many cases running out of opioid painkillers.

What are the Current Opioid Painkiller Shortages?

Hydrocodone/acetaminophen tablets are currently facing significant backorders, with thirty-five different formulations of this painkiller affected. Most pharmaceutical companies have been unable or unwilling to provide an estimated resupply date, contributing to uncertainties in the availability of this medication.

Recently, ASHP (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) reported that multiple generic drug manufacturers are facing depleted stocks of oxycodone/acetaminophen tablets, commonly known as Percocet and Endocet, vital for managing moderate to severe pain.

ASHP’s inquiries yielded the following responses from drug makers:

  • Camber lacks oxycodone/acetaminophen supplies, awaiting DEA approval.
  • Amneal and KVK-Tech have limited 5mg and 7.5mg tablets, with 10mg tablets on back order.
  • Major expects 7.5mg tablets by late September and 10mg by late October.
  • Rhodes intermittently faces back orders for 7.5mg and 5mg tablets, releasing supplies gradually.
  • Endo and Par Pharmaceuticals still offer various doses of Percocet and Endocet.

Is There a Solution to the Opioid Shortage?

Although ASHP flagged shortages months ago, these issues have yet to appear on the FDA’s drug shortage list. Despite acknowledgment by a federal health official, concrete solutions to the shortage issue remain vague.

Steps taken by the CDC’s ORRP (Overdose Preparedness and Response Team) involve encouraging proactive partnerships between state health officials and pharmacists to ensure uninterrupted pain management. That said, pharmacies face constraints due to opioid litigation and restrictions imposed by wholesalers, aggravating the shortage issue. Other factors contributing to the shortage include complexities in the drug supply chain and the significant reliance on foreign suppliers for many drugs.

The hydrocodone shortage is part of a bigger picture. According to a recent Senate-commissioned report, the U.S. saw a significant 30% surge in new drug shortages from 2021 to 2022. By the end of 2022, there were a record 295 active drug shortages, with more than 15 critical drugs facing scarcity for over a decade. The pandemic brought national shortages to the forefront, exemplified by the challenges faced by families seeking common medications during an intense flu season.

The issue is not solely attributable to increased demand but is also deeply connected to the manufacturing and distribution practices for the U.S. market. We will continue monitoring these ongoing shortages of hydrocodone and other opioids, posting any relevant updates as supplies normalize. Until then, what should you do if you run out of prescription painkillers?

What To Do If You Run Out of Hydrocodone

The sudden discontinuation of hydrocodone can can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and potentially dangerous. Abruptly stopping hydrocodone can result in various physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate

These symptoms can be distressing and challenging to manage without proper medical supervision. Additionally, running out of hydrocodone can trigger a rapid return of the body’s tolerance to the drug, potentially increasing the risk of a life-threatening hydrocodone overdose if the person resumes taking the same dose as before.

This means that you should always taper off hydrocodone under the guidance of a healthcare professional to minimize the risk of withdrawal symptoms and ensure a safe and effective transition off the medication.

Consult your healthcare provider if your supply of hydrocodone is getting low or if you are struggling to refill your prescription. Do not use other opioids as a substitute without first consulting your prescribing physician. Under no circumstances resort to illicit opioids like heroin or fentanyl. If you are in severe pain, call for immediate medical assistance.

Get Help for Hydrocodone Dependence at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California, we specialize in providing comprehensive outpatient treatment for individuals struggling with hydrocodone addiction and other opioid use disorders.

Our outpatient treatment programs, including PHP (partial hospitalization program), IOP (intensive outpatient program), and OP (outpatient program), are designed to offer tailored support and structure to meet the unique needs of each individual seeking recovery.

At Renaissance, we prioritize a holistic approach, incorporating evidence-based interventions such as medication-assisted treatment, individual and group therapy, psychotherapy, family therapy, holistic therapies, and aftercare services. 

If you or a family member is struggling with opioid addiction or a shortage of prescription opioids in your area, take the first crucial step towards recovery by reaching out to our admissions team at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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