CVS Health announced Thursday that it was limiting the amount and strength of prescription opioid painkillers it provides to patients taking the drugs for the first time, a step intended to help curb opioid abuse.

Through its pharmacy benefit manager, CVS (CVS) Caremark, which has 90 million plan members, the company will introduce three new policies, effective in February. First, patients new to opioids will only get seven days’ worth of medication. The program will also limit daily dosages and require that immediate-release formulations of drugs be given before extended-release versions are prescribed.

Doctors can ask for exemptions for certain patients, CVS said, and employers and insurers can opt out of the program.

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CVS said the new rules will bring the company in line with prescribing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year. In a Health Affairs blog post, CVS officials estimated that 61 people at a company of 100,000 employees would avoid becoming addicted to opioids in a given year if those guidelines were followed. The estimate, they said, was based on commercial insurance data.

“The CDC Guideline should become the default approach to prescribing opiates, a scenario in which physicians would have to seek exceptions for those patients who need more medication or longer duration of therapy,” the officials wrote. “What is more, pharmacy benefit managers are better placed than others in the pharmacy supply chain to put this approach to the CDC Guideline into practice,” as opposed to medication wholesalers or retail pharmacists.

Based on the CDC’s recommendations, CVS’s new daily dosage limit is 90 morphine milligram equivalents, or MMEs, a measure of the strength of a painkiller.

As part of the new effort, CVS Pharmacy sites will also offer enhanced counseling and education campaigns about opioid safety and addiction.

The move by CVS could fuel the debate about whether doctors, PBMs, and pharmacies are reacting too stringently to the opioid epidemic, tightening access to prescription opioids so that patients with legitimate pain problems cannot get the treatment they feel they need. Another large PBM, Express Scripts, previously announced it was planning to limit the supply and dosage of opioids for first-time patients, a move the American Medical Association warned was a “blunt, one-size-fits-all approach” that took treatment decisions away from the doctor and patient.

Increasingly, heroin and the illicit use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl are responsible for fatal opioid overdoses, but many cases of addiction begin with prescription painkillers. In some cases, people will start taking leftover medicine originally prescribed to someone else.

CVS also announced Thursday it was adding another 750 medication disposal kiosks at its pharmacies around the country, roughly doubling the number that CVS has helped open as of now.

The roots of the opioid epidemic are multifaceted, but pharmacies and PBMs have been accused of allowing painkillers to flow into communities with few limitations. Earlier this year, Cherokee Nation sued CVS and other companies, alleging they helped fuel an addiction crisis in the tribal community.

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  • People like the CEO of CVS should goto jail. Good thing I’ll never use CVS with my 140 20mg oxycodone a day. I suggest everyone to leave CVS asap. Let them go bankrupt. Corrupt as hell companies. Boycott CVS

  • Has anybody noticed all of the new pain relief products being advertised on television and Facebook? It appears that withholding pain medications from chronic pain patients has created a new market for scammers to take advantage of desperate pain patients seeking some relief. Don’t fall for their sales pitch about these new miracle pain relief products developed from new technologies. In addition, people are still dying from drugs laced with fentanyl. Withholding pain medication from legitimate pain patients has done very little to save drug addicts lives. All that has been done is making chronic pain patients lives worse. Why would anybody have a surgery to possibly fix a pain problem when if the surgery goes badly, they won’t treat the increased pain.

  • WALK A MILE IN SOMEONE ELSES SHOES THE PEOPLE MAKING THESE RULE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT PAIN IS .I HAVE BEEN IN PAIN FOR ABOUT 40 YEARS AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER HAD THIS TYPE OF PAIN HAVE NO IDEA.I AM AT 7.5 PAIN LEAVEL WITH THE PAIN MEDICINE I TOLD MY DR JUST PUT ME IN A HOSPITAL IF YOU REDUCE MY MEDICINE I COULD USE A STRONGER AMOUNT BUT SOMEONE WITH NO IDEA OF THE LIFE I HAVE CAN TELL ME WHAT IS BEST FOR ME.CVS HAS MORE PULL THAN A DR.

  • I have chronic pain from 3 very painful conditions and I also have ulcers throughout my digestive system because of the autoimmune condition I had to have 2 teeth pulled because of a dentist messing up and breaking them while trying to remove fillings that I later realized were fine but it was done and no fixing it. The dentist gave me a very modest amount of pain medication for 3 days but CVS refused to fill it saying that I could choose between the two, one for breakthrough pain of one pill per day or to treat the pain from the dental surgery! Since the teeth broke down to the roots removal of basically healthy teeth was very traumatic but CVS didn’t care, they said they had no way to verify that the dentist had checked to see if I was already on pain medication! Since when did the fucking pharmacy become the policeman of the doctors and dentist! When I went back and wasn’t healing because of broken jaw bone fragments he asked if I still wanted the prescription which I could really use but I know CVS would be the pain medication Gestapo and refuse the next prescription! I’m going to try Costco pharmacies and hopefully find a sympathetic pharmacist vs the pharmaceutical company that only has their bottom line as a motivator. I’ve since learned that they treat the pharmacist as badly and mistakes are inevitable because they don’t give them breaks overwork them and threaten them constantly to work faster fill prescription that aren’t necessary etc

    • Don’t waste your time going back to CVS for anything… ever! They deserve to go out of business. If you have pain meds from two different doctors, that’s going to be a problem anywhere you go. Everything is kept in a database, and they can see who’s giving you what. If a second doctor pops up, they consider that “doctor shopping,” and it’s cause to refuse to fill your prescriptions. I hate being at the mercy of anyone for anything, but for chronic pain sufferers, that’s the new politics. We’re considered no better than junkies shooting up heroin off the streets.

      It sounds like your “dentist” was more of a butcher. I think you should consult with an attorney, because it sounds like he did some pretty serious damage, handed you a 3-day prescription, and hoped that was the end of it. It wouldn’t have been for me!

    • So agree with Jim. I use Wallgreens and although everything about this opioid prescribing rules is beyond convoluted. All the pharmacies have rules but never have I had them override a Doctors orders. Im shopping for a medicare part D plan but if CVS is their preferred pharmacy, I will not go with them for that reason only.

      If your Dental ins is medical, those Dentist will do what ever they get paid for. I had root canal done that I know now was not necessary; yet I want to get a partial to replace a very old bride in the back and they refused it. They advertise this as Dental benefit. The wanted me to remove all my top teeth (that are perfect) before they would pay for it. I was 64 when this happened and I think they look at your age. Plus the more teeth I loose, the less they have to pay out in the future. When ins companys were permitted to operate for profit vs non profit, it was worse decision. The politians dont care b/c ins comp are the biggest contributors to their campaigns. In other words they are bought and paid for.

    • To clarify something on my last comment. ABout the dental insurance; specifically, I was referring to “Denta-Cal”, the state paid Dental.

  • This is ridiculous for older patients & DOCTORS. Seems the Drs will be on the phone with pharmacies half they’re flipping day & they’re just not going to do it. Period.

  • I don’t have cancer, but I do have constant and other chronic conditions.
    The last time a CVS Pharmacy refused to fill my legitimate prescription, I called the Corporation Headquarters to complain, and the so called Customer Service person, hung up on me!
    Apparently, CVS is very happy with their policy!
    I suggest contacting your elected officials!

    • I have a feeling it gonna get worse when this Johnson&Johnson case ends..Going after dr`s,pharmacists,etc…

  • Now CVS is overriding an Oncologist recommendation for Cancer Treatment???

    https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article232478212.html

    Is there any one with Cancer that follows this site and is forced to use CVS as the ins. co. preferred pharmacy; Would you share your experience.

    Im in the process of making a decision on new ins. When I found out that the insurance co I am consider has CVS as the preferred pharmacy, I am more than concerned. I have cancer pain and enough trouble with this opioid witch hunt.

    • I tried CVS and quickly went back to Public and used GoodRx for a discount. I was so pissed at what they wanted to do dispensing my pain meds. And I’m on Medicaid So my meds are free of charge to me. That’s how disgusted I was.
      Find another Ins. Co.

    • Sue: Do NOT use an insurance company that requires you to get prescriptions filled at CVS! You will have nothing but problems. CVS can’t feel your pain. I’m very sorry that you’re having to deal with this, and wish you the best of all possible outcomes.

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