CVS made a big announcement this week, introducing three policies aimed to restrict the amount and strength of opioid prescriptions it prescribes to patients. The goal is to cut down on opioid abuse.
Patients new to opioids will now only get seven days worth of medication. Other changes include a limit on daily doses and the requirement that immediate release type medication be prescribed before extended-release versions are prescribed.
These changes take affect February 1, 2018. CVS is one of the largest pharmacy chains in the U.S., and they have over 90 million members. With sales of opioid prescriptions quadrupling from 1999 to 2014, this is well needed step. Pharmacies have been accused of allowing painkillers to flow into communities, helping to fuel the opioid crisis. CVS says it will also provide counseling to opioid patients about the risks of dependency and addiction.
New CDC Guidelines
In addition, the CDC recently updated their guidelines regarding the prescribing of opioids. Before prescribing opioids, doctors are instructed to establish treatment goals with patients and consider how opioids will be discontinued if benefits do not outweigh risks. When opioids are used, they should prescribe the lowest effective dosage, carefully reassess benefits and risks when considering increasing dosage to 50 morphine milligram equivalents or more per day, and avoid concurrent opioids and benzodiazepines whenever possible.
These guidelines have caused controversy. Some pain specialists and patient advocates cited a lack of evidence supporting many of the recommendations. Critics voiced concern that the guidelines could result in patients being denied pain relief they legitimately need. The guidelines do not apply to cancer treatment or end-of-life care.
Will it Help?
Critics are already saying the new CVS policies are too stringent and that it will do little to curb the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, drug overdoses are the leading cause of unintentional death in the US. Up to 1 in 4 patients with chronic pain can experience opioid dependence. A family history of addiction, mental health issues and other chronic issues can put you at higher risk.