President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the nation’s opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.” He also singled out CVS Health for its leadership in limiting opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply compared to as much as 20 days.
In September, CVS was the first national retail chain to restrict how many pain pills doctors can give patients. CEO Larry Merlo tells Fortune the reaction from patients, physicians, and pharmacies has been “extremely positive.”
“We need to do our part to begin to reverse this trend that we’ve seen emerging for many years,” says Merlo.
CVS has the influence to be an important player in coming up with solutions. It manages medications for nearly 90 million customers at 9,700 retail locations. With revenues of $177 billion, it is ranked number seven on Fortune’s list of the 500 largest companies in the United States. It is bigger than General Motors and AT&T.
But not far behind CVS is Amazon, which reportedly may get into the pharmacy business by selling drugs online. A decision could come before the end of the year. What could this mean for CVS? Merlo does not appear concerned.
“We shouldn’t think of pharmacy as if we’re buying a book or a television,” he says, adding that the pharmacist at the neighborhood CVS store is the “frontline of healthcare.” Merlo also says, “Certainly if Amazon or any other competitor decided to enter that space, I’m confident that as our business continues to evolve, we’ll continue to be an effective competitor.”
Watch the video above to hear more of our conversation with Merlo.