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CVS to limit painkiller prescriptions to a 7-day supply

CVS Pharmacy will limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for certain conditions, like dental surgery.
/ Source: TODAY

CVS Pharmacy will limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for certain conditions, becoming the first national retail chain to restrict how many pain pills doctors can give patients.

This new policy means new customers with acute short-term pain will only be able to receive a week's worth of opioid painkilers with a single prescription.

When filling prescription for opioid pills, pharmacists will also be required to talk to patients about the risks of addiction, secure storage of medications in the home and proper disposal, the retail pharmacy chain said Thursday. It's all part of an effort by the nation's largest drug store chain to cut the skyrocketing addiction rate.

The move by CVS to limit prescription opioids like OxyContin or Vicodin to a seven-day supply is a significant restriction for patients — the average pill supply given by doctors in the U.S. increased from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days 2015, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have some situations, in which we feel that there are certain physicians who are prescribing way too high of doses and way too strong of medications," said Dr. Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS Health. "We've got an epidemic on our hands, and we've got clear evidence that, if we restrict access to these medications, more than we're doing so right now, we'll reduce the amount of addiction that occurs, and as a result of that, we'll reduce the amount of human suffering."

CVS, — which was the first large retail pharmacy chain to stop selling cigarettes in 2014 — manages medications for nearly 90 million customers at 9,700 retail locations. It plans to roll out the initiatives to control opioid abuse as of February 1, 2018.

Daily dosage limits will be based on the strength of the painkiller and CVS pharmacists will require the use of immediate-release formulations of opioids before extended-release opioids are dispensed, lowering the risk of tolerance to the highly addictive drugs.

One in three Americans, or 91.8 million Americans used opioid pills in 2015, according to a recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More than 15,000 people died from prescription opioid overdose in 2015, according to the CDC.

With counseling on secure storage and disposal of opioid pills, the CVS pharmacists hope to limit easy access to the pills. Five percent of adults surveyed told the National Institute on Drug Abuse researchers they took opioids without their doctor’s permission — often getting the prescription meds for free from friends or relatives.

The CVS announcement comes on the heels of a special publication released by the National Academy of Medicine, "First, Do No Harm," which calls on the leadership and action of doctors to help reverse the “course of preventable harm and suffering from prescription opioids.”

The CVS move is a step in the right direction, although conquering painkiller addiction will take multi-dimensional solutions. “Simply restricting access to opioids without offering alternative pain treatments may have limited efficacy in reducing prescription opioid abuse,” said representatives from NIDA.