In a new effort to tackle the deadly opioid addiction crisis in the US, pharmacy giant CVS announced on Friday it will limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for certain conditions. This restriction will apply to patients who are new to pain therapy.
The new pharmacy program will also limit the daily dosage of pain pills based on their strength and will require use of immediate-release formulations before extended release opioids -- intended for severe, long-term pain treatment -- are dispensed.
The changes will roll out on February 1, 2018 and cover all commercial, health plan, employer and Medicaid clients.
CVS, which manages medications for nearly 90 million plan members, is one of the largest pharmaceutical chains in the US, with approximately 9,600 CVS Pharmacy stores and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics.
"With a presence in nearly 10,000 communities across the country, we see firsthand the impact of the alarming and rapidly growing epidemic of opioid addiction and misuse," said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health.
From 1999 to 2014, sales of prescription opioids in the US almost quadrupled, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet there has been no change in pain reported by Americans.
CVS said its pharmacists will also counsel patients with opioid prescriptions about the risk of dependence and addiction based on CDC guidelines. These educational sessions will also emphasize the importance of keeping medications secure in the home and proper disposal of unused medication.
To help patients wanting to follow these guidelines, the company will almost double the number of drug disposal units in its Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program from 800 to 1,550 kiosks. This expansion will begin this fall with locations in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.
The company is also committing $2 million to Community Health Centers that provide medication-assisted treatment and other addiction recovery services.
The President's opioid commission says that about 142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose, equal to the death toll from the September 11 attacks every three weeks. Most of those overdoses are from opioids.
Though there were over 30,000 fatal overdoses from opioid drugs in 2015, public health experts believe that for every fatal overdose, there are 30 non-fatal overdoses. That would mean over 900,000 overdoses in 2015 alone.
According to the CDC, drug overdoses are the leading cause of unintentional death in the US.