CVS will limit opioid prescriptions to seven days
CVS Pharmacy has rolled out new policies designed to limit opioid prescriptions amid national concern about addiction to the powerful pain-relieving drugs.
CVS will restrict the supply of opioids to seven days for certain conditions, as well as limiting the daily dosage of opioids dispensed based on the strength of the medication, the Rhode Island-based chain announced Thursday.
CVS, which has dozens of outlets across Central Pennsylvania, also will require counseling for patients receiving opioids for the first time, with pharmacists discussing the risks of dependence and addiction.
Opioids have been linked to an epidemic of addiction and drug-related deaths across the nation. Pennsylvania had 4,642 fatal drug overdoses in 2016 — up 37 percent from 2015 — state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said this week, adding that 80 percent of people suffering from heroin addiction began by abusing prescription drugs.
A total of 7.3 million opioid prescription drugs were dispensed in Pennsylvania last year, Shapiro said. An estimated 91.8 million Americans used opioid pills in 2015, according to a recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse cited by NBC News.
"We are further strengthening our commitment to help providers and patients balance the need for these powerful medications with the risk of abuse and misuse," CVS Health president and CEO Larry J. Merlo said in a statement.
NBC also reported that CVS is the first national chain to impose prescription limits.
Efforts to reach a spokeswoman for Cumberland County-based Rite Aid Corp. were not immediately successful Friday morning.
Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Illinois-based Walgreens Boots Alliance, said the Walgreens chain has "a good-faith dispensing policy to assist our pharmacists in dispensing appropriate levels of opioids based on patient need and in consultation with their prescribers when necessary."
Walgreens will be implementing additional steps in the coming weeks, Polzin said, including adoption of Centers for Disease Control guidelines to recommend Narcan, an emergency spray used to treat overdoses, to any patient receiving high dosages of an opioid.
Walgreens also is working with benefits managers to examine additional ways to limit the initial quantity of opioid prescriptions for new patients, Polzin said.
The issue of opioid addiction has led to a multistate investigation of manufacturers and distributors, in which Pennsylvania's AG is participating, as well as a visit to Harrisburg Friday morning by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who discussed drug policy with law enforcement officials.