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.


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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  • I`ve recently got ins. and CVS is the pharmacy that they recommend to fill prescriptions at zero cost.I was going to change over from Publix. When I went to do that they told me they`d have to have my script. and then basically vet me and said that the amount of pain meds I`m getting seems high and there might be an issue.When I get my script I need it filled right away,I can`t wait around to be vetted..So needless to say I`m having to stay with puyblix because of all the BS involved with pain meds…

  • My father gets a 30 day supply of Norco, cvs will not fill it on the Thirtieth day witch throws his schedule off the next day because cvs pharmacy is not open at 7 am. My father is 89 and not having his set time throwers his demented into swirl.

  • Here’s the bottom line about CVS. Never purchase anything from them again. They pulled this crap on me and put me in withdrawal. It was a brutal experience. I got help from another doctor that could prescribe Suboxone. I got off of oxycodone for three months and was miserable from my chronic back pain. I couldn’t take the constant pain anymore, so I went back to my pain doctor and he prescribed oxycodone and I was able the get it filled at a Riteaid Pharmacy. I have been a chronic pain patient for almost 20 years and CVS almost ruined my life. I tried living with the pain and it was too much for me to bare. I didn’t crave the drug, I needed the relief the drug gave me. I am not an addict, I am a dependent pain patient. I hope the policies CVS has put in place ruins their business. This was an attack on my life and they need to feel the attack on them from chronic pain patients. I tell everyone what they did to me and ask that they pass it along to other people to boycott CVS.

  • I’ve been saying this all along, Cyndi, as have many other chronic pain sufferers who use their meds responsibly. I don’t know how CVS thinks they have a right to override the instructions of a licensed physician. CVS’s only legitimate role is to honor a legitimate prescription written by a licensed physician. Who appointed them to be the final arbiter in such matters, when they aren’t licensed physicians, they don’t know the details of your medical problems, and they haven’t examined you? BOYCOTT CVS! Don’t buy so much as a Band Aid from these self-appointed dictators who have no right to do what they’re doing!

    Yes, they need to be sued, and they need to publicly feel the heat. I’ve been getting all my prescriptions filled by Sav-On for the last nine years, have a well-established relationship with them, and have NEVER had problems like what you’re going through. Take your business to some other pharmacy!

    I worry every month whether some new law or policy is going to pull the rug out from under me. So far, this hasn’t affected me, but that may also be because I’m 71 years old. When you get to my age, everything is going to hurt. Does anybody really think I’m likely to overdose this late in my life? Would it really matter if I actually did? I’ll probably be dead in 10-15 years anyway, but I’m sure as hell not going to hurry that along by taking more medication than my doctor recommends.

    If you deny pain medication to a chronic pain sufferer, one of two things is likely to happen: He’s going to have to resort to seeking relief from illegal and questionable sources, or if the pain becomes unbearable, he’s simply going to resort to the final solution and check out of life. As with most ill advised government policies created by politicians rather than those who really understand the problem, as well as the consequences, the problem gets worse, rather than better. New heroin and Fentanyl addicts will be created. The ones who don’t get caught and imprisoned, will be much more likely to die from an overdose of illegal drugs than they were when they were allowed to take legal drugs under a doctor’s care and supervision.

    Don’t take NO for an answer! Find another pharmacy, and speak out in public forums like this to make more people aware that chronic pain sufferers are NOT the problem… junkies are the problem, and a junkie is always going to find a way to get high, no matter what well-intentioned, but misguided people try to do to change that.

    • I wanted to transfer my scripts over to CVS because it would be zero cost for me..All my scripts except my pain meds which I kept at Publix..Well I had NO idea about a policy that you either have all your scripts filled at one place or the other.I caught hell from Publix,they were going cancel all of my meds.I just didn`t want to deal with the BS of trying to swap over pain meds to another pharmacy. So needless to say I`m staying with Publix and having to pay for my meds with their discount instead of getting them at no cost from CVS.

  • I am ready to call an Attorney about my Human Rights being Violated. CVS here in Florida,the Pharmacist Refused to fill my prescriptions because i Had called CVS corporate on her, CVS is blaming the DEA for how many they are limited to purchase.If you call the DEA they do not care how many Companies order they Monitor their Incoming and outgoing and do audits to confirm Legitimate Prescriptions. The Pharmacyst however did like it that i called her out on that. I have been told in front of other customers and Staff there Your Oxycodones and Oxycontins are not my fault Dr’s Over prescribe these medications. My heart and prayers goes out to families that have addicted or overdose members,but i am really fed of with the people with Legitimate diagnosis,disease’s that require narcotics and i feel our rights as consumers with legitimate without history of drug use. ive tried pot over 30yrs ago was the only drug i tried. I am faithful on my medication and would not go against the law. But I am now writing to Boards of Pharmacy on this Pharmacist. Being Denied medication can also harm our bodies.It states do not immediately stop this medicine. that is now putting me in harm. We need more people to speak out. We are paying the price because those who abuse and unfortunate have a bigger addiction problem,they do not use it for Legitimate true Disease’s and Diagnosis. I see i am not the only one having these issues. But This Pharmacyst needs to be Disciplined she is only refusing because I turned her in. I have on my meds over 9years, and she is gonna put my body in harm in the next few days. I thought Trust your pharmacyst NO DO NOT TRUST THEM.

  • Why don’t they stop using Opioids? I understand the same plant same drug but the difference is my medication I buy from a drug store prescription from a Dr.
    Don’t put me in the same box with a junkie shoving a needle or smoking a drug bought from a drug dealer.
    Junkies will drink snort or shoot anything to get high you seriously do a harm to people who needs a medicine to get out of bed not to shoot up and shit themselves.

    • DUMP CVS! They don’t deserve to stay in business, and they have NO business overriding what YOUR licensed physician has prescribed for you. Are they doctors? Have they examined you? I’ve been getting all of my meds from Sav-On for nine years now, and they’ve NEVER tried to pull that crap.

  • If it’s any comfort, CVS stock has been in the toilet since December of last year. I know that makes ME feel a little better.

  • I just went through a freaking nightmare at CVS..I just got Ins and cvs is the pharmacy that takes it so I thought I`d transfer my meds there..I felt so violated after the pharmacist told me I`d need to order my pain meds they`d need to check my history,etc. etc. and then I still might not be cleared…So I ended up going back to my publix pharmacy where I will need to pay full price.I`m sitting here now,my BP is sky high,have a Migrain,stomach is in knots.I`m 58,severe pain,been in a pmc for 5 years plus,and these idiots made me feel like a criminal…

    • ALWAYS have issues getting pain med rx filled and on time. Abusers, addicts and traffickers are still the problem while patients with legitimate needs are treated like they are the problem. CVS is the worst. Say they won’t even fill a doctor’s prescription unless the patient calls to request it be filled. Stupid nonsense that isn’t help the “opioid crisis” in the least.

  • Kratom? I tried that crap several years ago, and it did absolutely nothing. Big ripoff. My State got all scared of the “Kratom Epidemic,” and I think the made it illegal… got to keep those prisons full.

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