The Food and Drug Administration is recommending tighter restrictions on prescription medicines containing hydrocodone, a highly addictive painkiller and the most widely prescribed drug in the U.S.

In 2011, U.S. doctors wrote more than 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone, the AP reported. 

The FDA now recommends that hydrocodone-containing drugs should be restricted in the same ways as narcotic drugs like oxycodone and morphine.

The FDA did not issue a formal announcement about the decision, which patient advocates, doctors and state and federal lawmakers have debated for years. Instead, the FDA posted a statement online.

“For the millions of American patients experiencing an acute medical need or living with chronic pain, opioids, when prescribed appropriately, can allow patients to manage their pain as well as significantly improve their quality of life,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the center for drug evaluation and research. “However, in recent years, the FDA has become increasingly concerned about the abuse and misuse of opioid products, which have sadly reached epidemic proportions in certain parts of the United States.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration first asked the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone so that it would be subject to the same restrictions as other painkilling drugs more than a decade ago.

Hydrocodone has been easy to prescribe because it is sold in combination pills and formulas with non-addictive ingredients like aspirin and acetaminophen, which has made hydrocodone many health care professionals’ first choice for treating everything from severe arthritis pain to toothaches.

The FDA said they would formally request the reclassification in December. The request must be approved by officials within the Department for Health and Human Services.