A prescription drug used to treat muscle pain and tension could soon be added to Utah's list of controlled substances, a move that would allow law enforcement to more easily detect abuse and fraud involving the medication.
The Health and Human Services Interim Committee approved a draft bill sponsored by Rep. Trisha Beck that would place cardisoprodol, sold under the brand name Soma, as a Schedule IV drug.
If the bill is passed by the 2010 Legislature, the drug would be added to Utah's Controlled Substance Database Program, allowing tracking of prescriptions and creating penalties for unlawful possession or distribution of the drug. Refills would be limited to five times within six months.
The committee declined to sign off on listing tramadol, sold under the brand name Ultram and Ultracet, as a Schedule IV drug, saying there wasn't enough evidence of abuse to justify monitoring use of the analgesic. Several committee members said they wanted to defer a decision on tramadol until a standard process is created in Utah to review listing of medications as controlled substances. A bill to do that is in the works.
Beck said a study group comprised of law officers, prosecutors, pharmacists, physicians, family members, legislators and other government officials, recommended the classification for the two drugs.
"Listing the drugs as scheduled drugs puts patients and family members on notice of the fact that these drugs, which greatly effect the nervous system, are often abused and are very addictive," said Beck, who lost a nephew to an addiction to painkillers in 2007.
Other medications listed as Schedule IV drugs include Xanax, Valium, Lunesta and Ambien. Drugs in the classification have potential to result in physical or psychological dependence.
Rep. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, a committee member and pharmacist, said the muscle relaxant also has a sedating effect. It is typically abused in combination with alcohol or other drugs, he said. Less abuse and dependency occurs with tramadol, he said.
Seventeen states have listed cardisoprodol as a scheduled drug, while two have taken that step with tramadol, Beck said. Both drugs are on the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's watch list though the agency has not yet made them controlled substances, according to Robert Johnson, a DEA investigator.
Johnson said seizures related to use of Soma have increased sixfold since 2000, from 645 to 3,845 in 2008. He also said the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports 78 "toxic deaths" from cardisoprodol medications between 2003 and 2007.
Soma is being sold on the street illegally at $1 to $5 a tablet, according to Chad Platt, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney.