Amendment: Section 2D1.1(c) is amended in each of subdivisions (5), (6), (7), (8), and (9) by striking the lines referenced to Schedule III Hydrocodone;
and in each of subdivisions (10), (11), (12), (13), (14), (15), (16), and (17) by striking the lines referenced to Schedule III Hydrocodone, and in the lines referenced to Schedule III substances (except Ketamine or Hydrocodone) by striking “or Hydrocodone”.
The annotation to §2D1.1(c) captioned “Notes to Drug Quantity Table” is amended in Note (B) in the last paragraph by striking “The term ‘Oxycodone (actual)’ refers” and inserting “The terms ‘Hydrocodone (actual)’ and ‘Oxycodone (actual)’ refer”.
The Commentary to §2D1.1 captioned “Application Notes” is amended in Note 8(D), under the heading relating to Schedule I or II Opiates, by striking the line referenced to Hydrocodone/Dihydrocodeinone and inserting the following:
“ 1 gm of Hydrocodone (actual) = 6700 gm of marihuana”;
in the heading relating to Schedule III Substances (except ketamine and hydrocodone) by striking “and hydrocodone” both places such term appears;
and in the heading relating to Schedule III Hydrocodone by striking the heading and subsequent paragraphs as follows:
“ Schedule III Hydrocodone****
1 unit of Schedule III hydrocodone = 1 gm of marihuana
****Provided, that the combined equivalent weight of all Schedule III substances (except ketamine), Schedule IV substances (except flunitrazepam), and Schedule V substances shall not exceed 2,999.99 kilograms of marihuana.”;
and in Note 27(C) by inserting after “methamphetamine,” the following: “hydrocodone,”.
Reason for Amendment: This amendment changes the way the primary drug trafficking guideline calculates a defendant’s drug quantity in cases involving hydrocodone in response to recent administrative actions by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The amendment adopts a marihuana equivalency for hydrocodone (1 gram equals 6700 grams of marihuana) based on the weight of the hydrocodone alone.
In 2013 and 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved several new pharmaceuticals containing hydrocodone which can contain up to twelve times as much hydrocodone in a single pill than was previously available. Separately, in October 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration moved certain commonly-prescribed pharmaceuticals containing hydrocodone from the less-restricted Schedule III to the more-restricted Schedule II. Among other things, the scheduling doubled the statutory maximum term of imprisonment available for trafficking in the pharmaceuticals that were previously controlled under Schedule III from 10 years to 20 years. The change also rendered obsolete the entries in the Drug Quantity Table and Drug Equivalency Table in §2D1.1 (Unlawful Manufacturing, Importing, Exporting, or Trafficking (Including Possession with Intent to Commit These Offenses); Attempt or Conspiracy) that set a marihuana equivalency for the pharmaceuticals that were previously controlled under Schedule III.
As a result of these administrative actions, all pharmaceuticals that include hydrocodone are now subject to the same statutory penalties. There is wide variation in the amount of hydrocodone available in these pharmaceuticals and in the amount of other ingredients (such as binders, coloring, acetaminophen, etc.) they contain. This variation raises significant proportionality issues within §2D1.1, where drug quantity for hydrocodone offenses has previously been calculated based on the weight of the entire substance that contains hydrocodone or on the number of pills. Neither of these calculations directly took into account the amount of actual hydrocodone in the pills.
The amendment addresses these changed circumstances by setting a new marihuana equivalency for hydrocodone based on the weight of the hydrocodone alone. Without this change, defendants with less actual hydrocodone could have received a higher guideline range than those with more hydrocodone because pills with less hydrocodone can sometimes contain more non-hydrocodone ingredients, leading the lower-dose pills to weigh more.
In setting the marihuana equivalency, the Commission considered: potency of the drug, medical use of the drug, and patterns of abuse and trafficking, such as prevalence of abuse, consequences of misuse including death or serious bodily injury from use, and incidence of violence associated with its trafficking. The Commission noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s rescheduling decision relied in part on the close relationship between hydrocodone and oxycodone, a similar and commonly-prescribed drug that was already controlled under Schedule II. Scientific literature, public comment, and testimony supported the conclusion that the potency, medical use, and patterns of abuse and trafficking of hydrocodone are very similar to oxycodone. In particular, the Commission heard testimony from abuse liability specialists and reviewed scientific literature indicating that, in studies conducted under standards established by the Food and Drug Administration for determining the abuse liability of a particular drug, the potencies of hydrocodone and oxycodone when abused are virtually identical, even though some physicians who prescribe the two drugs in a clinical setting might not prescribe them in equal doses. Public comment indicated that both hydrocodone and oxycodone are among the top ten drugs most frequently encountered by law enforcement and that their methods of diversion and rates of diversion per kilogram of available drug are similar. Public comment and review of the scientific literature also indicated that the users of the two drugs share similar characteristics, and that some users may use them interchangeably, a situation which may become more common as the more powerful pharmaceuticals recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration become available.
Based on proportionality considerations and the Commission’s assessment that, for purposes of the drug guideline, hydrocodone and oxycodone should be treated equivalently, the amendment adopts a marihuana equivalency for hydrocodone (actual) that is the same as the existing equivalency for oxycodone (actual): 1 gram equals 6,700 grams of marihuana.
Effective Date: The effective date of this amendment is November 1, 2015.