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CVS Health, one of the nation's biggest pharmacies, just announced that it will be taking major steps to fight the opioid epidemic in America. What will this look like? First, it will limit prescriptions to seven days for certain conditions and will limit the daily dose of pain pills based on strength. It will also set guidelines that require patients to use short-term formulations before moving to extended-release opioids, which are designed for more severe and long-term pain management.
This all sounds great, but the new initiative doesn't stop there. In addition, CVS will be developing new protocols that require pharmacists to counsel patients on the risks of dependence and why it's important to keep their medications in a safe, secure place in the home. They will also almost double the amount of drug disposal units—kiosks where you can safely dispose of unused prescription medications—and are dedicating $2 million to treatments and recovery services for addiction.
The changes will officially take effect in February of 2018. Why is this a big deal? First, CVS Health is a major U.S. corporation—composed of 9,600 CVS Pharmacy stores and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics, so their reach is pretty substantial. Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic is just as major and widespread. Experts estimate that there were around 900,000 opioid overdoses in 2015 alone, and the sale of these drugs has quadrupled in the last two decades—despite the fact that the presence of pain among Americans has stayed the same. Kudos to CVS for giving this issue the attention it deserves and recognizing what an important role they play in safe (or unsafe) opioid use.