CVS Health has announced plans to further restrict the filling of opioid prescriptions at its pharmacies by limiting the dose and initial supply of opioid medication to seven days, starting February 1. It was not immediately clear how the new policy would impact existing customers who regularly fill 30-day opioid prescriptions at CVS or those who receive high doses.
The company said it would “give greater weight” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s opioid prescribing guideline, which discourages doctors from prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
“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,” Troyen Brennan, MD, CVS’ Chief Medical Officer wrote in a post on Health Affairs Blog.
But the new CVS policy actually goes beyond the voluntary recommendations of the CDC guideline, which was only intended for primary care physicians who treat chronic pain. Beginning February 1, CVS will limit all initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven days. Doses also must not exceed 90mg morphine equivalent units and are required to be in immediate release formulations, not extended release.
The policy will apply to all 90 million CVS customers enrolled in commercial, employer or Medicaid health plans, “unless the client chooses to opt out.” CVS operates 9,700 pharmacies and 1,100 walk-in medical clinics nationwide.
In announcing the policy, CVS rejected complaints that it and other healthcare providers were adopting a “heavy-handed, cookie cutter” approach to patient care – decisions best left between a patient and their doctor.
“To be sure, prescriber autonomy and respect for the physician-patient relationship are of paramount importance. However, there is little evidence to show that past opioid prescribing habits are necessary or appropriate, and there is a great deal of evidence that they have produced significant harm,” said Brennan.