CVS Health is taking a decisive step to combat the opioid epidemic, which is killing an increasing number of U.S. teens and may be responsible for 20% of the decline in American men’s labor force participation over the past 15 years. The new CVS opioid policy will limit many prescriptions to seven days and prioritize lower-dose and instant release formulations of the painkillers to reduce the risk of addiction and overdoses.
“Without a doubt, addressing our nation’s opioid crisis calls for a multipronged effort involving many health care stakeholders, from doctors, dentists and pharmaceutical companies to pharmacies and government officials,” said CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo in a statement announcing the initiative.
The CVS opioid policy will affect how the powerful pain-numbing drugs are distributed through its more than 9,600 pharmacies across the U.S. beginning in February 2018. For instance, patients who are prescribed opioids for certain acute medical conditions like (relatively) minor injuries would be given a one-week limited prescription at a reasonable dosage level. Extended release opioids would only be a secondary option after an instant release prescription has been dispensed.
The initiative will also bolster pharmacist training and awareness programs about opioids, and CVS will add in-store medicine disposal units at 750 pharmacies so that patients can safely throw leftover pills away.
An increasing number of medical industry players are starting to get serious about tackling the opioid epidemic which killed 33,000 Americans in 2015 alone. For instance, health insurer Cigna recently announced a 12% drop in opioid use among its U.S. customers after announcing an initiative to slash plan holders’ reliance on opioids by 25% by 2019.