Hydrocodone shortage leaves many in pain as pharmacies deal with strict regulations

Prescription pain medication in short supply at pharmacies across the country. Hydrocodone or Norco prescriptions are going unfilled for some patients in chronic pain.

"It's more like a liability issue - there's a shortage because basically everything's getting regulated - lots of pharmacies and warehouses got sued for dispensing opioids," said Rudy Najm, I Pharmacy.

Pharmacist Rudy Najm owns the independent i Pharmacy in Livonia, and points to recent lawsuits against major chains like CVS and Rite Aid - a nationwide crackdown on opioids following the massive lawsuit against Purdue Oharma over oxycontin.

"They are a controlled substance and the pharmacists are not pill mills - there's a lot of regulations behind them," said Najm. "The patient has to be in the neighborhood - the warehouses limit what you can get - if you want to order 10 bottles - they only send you one bottle."

He demonstrated by attempting to order five bottles of hydrocodone - and receives this message - he's only allowed to order only one.

"This is the limit we're allowed to have and it's done," he said.

Pharmacies are audited - and expected to make sure they're not dispensing to people addicted to pain meds.

"Pharmacists cannot dispense a lot of narcotics - warehouses cannot give you all the narcotics you want," he said.

Patients even have a narcotics score, one - that can prevent pharmacies from filling their prescriptions.

"It is regulated and as part of the opioid crisis - pharmacies have to do their due diligence," he said. "Where is the doctor located, that is one (red) flag, where is the patient located."

Because all of these factors can impact a pharmacy's ability to fill your prescription for painkillers like hydrocodone.

One thing Najm emphasizes is the importance of a long and strong relationship with your local pharmacist. Otherwise, certain prescriptions can raise a red flag.

"The patients most of the time have to be established patients at the drugstore where they have a history of pain management," he said. "The doctor has to work with the pharmacy that's close to them to see what they have and if that pharmacy doesn't have it in stock - what other options they might have to help the patient in chronic pain."

Because there could be other options available.

"Voltaren gel - it used to be prescription now it's over the counter - it's really good for anti-inflamatories," he said.

Most of the patients are struggling with arthritis pain.

But Najm knows chronic pain can be debilitating - but says the pharmacies are limited in how much they can help.

"Work with a drugstore in your area and with your doctor to find a different alternative for you," he said. "Because the last thing we want is to have a patient suffering and in pain and dealing with a drug shortage."

Rudy Najm, right, of I Pharmacy in Livonia.

Rudy Najm, right, of I Pharmacy in Livonia.