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CVS Health takes big steps to combat opioid abuse

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health unveiled a major plan that utilizes all its integrated pharmacy assets to help combat misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers.

The retailer said that its enterprisewide strategy to fight the opioid epidemic includes initiatives for safe drug disposal and utilization management of pain medications, as well as increased funding for addiction programs counseling for opioid abuse.

“As America’s front door to health care with a presence in nearly 10,000 communities across the country, we see firsthand the impact of the alarming and rapidly growing epidemic of opioid addiction and misuse,” CVS Health president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo said. “We are announcing an expansion of our enterprise initiatives to fight the opioid abuse epidemic that leverages CVS Pharmacy’s national presence with the capabilities of CVS Caremark, which manages medications for nearly 90 million plan members.”

To that end, CVS Caremark plans to roll out an enhanced opioid utilization management program for all commercial, health plan, employer and Medicaid clients as of February 1, 2018, unless clients choose to opt out. The initiative includes limiting to seven days the supply of opioids dispensed for certain acute prescriptions for patients who are new to therapy, as well as limiting the daily dosage of opioids dispensed based on the strength of the opioid. Also, the program will require the use of immediate-release formulations of opioids before extended-release opioids are dispensed.

The clinical program will educate patients about the guideline for opioid prescribing published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises using the lowest effective dose for the shortest duration possible. Pharmacists will counsel patients about the risk of dependence and addiction tied to duration of opioid use, the importance of keeping medications secure in the home and methods of proper disposal of unused medication.

On top of limiting opioid dispensing, the company plans to expand the CVS Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program to a total of 1,550 kiosks, including 750 more disposal units at CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide, starting this fall in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.

To date through the program, created with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, CVS has donated more than 800 medication disposal units to local police departments in 43 states.

Meanwhile, the CVS Health Foundation has also added a $2 million commitment to its prescription drug abuse initiatives to help support federally qualified community health centers to widen access to medication-assisted treatment and other recovery services. The foundation and the National Association of Community Health Centers convened a panel of experts to devise a protocol of best practices for community health centers on provider prescribing guidelines, medication-assisted treatment, behavioral health and collaboration with other community organizations to treat and prevent prescription drug abuse among at-risk patients.

“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,” Merlo added. “With this expansion of our industry-leading initiatives, we are further strengthening our commitment to help providers and patients balance the need for these powerful medications with the risk of abuse and misuse.”

These moves came as the White House declared the week of September 17 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. President Trump recently announced plans to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, though the official declaration was still under a legal review at presstime.


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