Drug benefit company enacts opioid limits

CVS Caremark to limit number of opioids (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - One of the largest prescription drug benefit providers in the country is taking steps to limit the number of opioids being dispensed to patients at its pharmacies.

CVS owns thousands of pharmacies but also owns a prescription drug benefit program, CVS Caremark. The company is implementing changes to its guidelines on opioids. Sarah Priestle, a pharmacist at Hart Pharmacy in West Price Hill, said the new guidelines are similar to ones implemented by the state of Ohio's Board of Pharmacy earlier this month.

"I think good pharmacists have always been trying to do these things," Priestle said. "Making sure that people getting the least amount of medication to help their pain, helping them to find ways to dispose of excess medications."

CVS's new policies include limiting the supply of opioids for new patients to seven days, limiting the daily dosage of a medication based on its strength and dispensing immediate-release medications before time-release opioids.

"An ankle sprain and a dental procedure, while an individual may be in pain, it doesn't call for a prescription of quantities of 30 pills or 60 pills," said Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS Health.

Steve Smith, COO of Sunrise Treatment Center, said limiting the number of opioids is a good thing but he believes there are risks.

"One unintended consequence could be if you pull prescription opioids off of the street then you increase the demand for heroin," said Smith, who believes there is a need for more treatment of addicts.

There are also concerns the new CVS and state of Ohio regulations could hurt patients who need the medication and take it responsibly.

"Just yesterday, I had a patient who was a chronic pain patient. There was an arbitrary rule that due to these new rules they can only have so many days, so many fills per month," Priestle said. The patient was able to get his medication but he had to wait. There are overrides doctors and pharmacists can perform but patients may still be limited in the number of pills they can obtain.

CVS Caremark's new rules will take effect in February 2018.

CVS has been fined more than $25 million filling fake prescriptions in Massachusetts and Florida. Walgreens has also been fined for similar issues.

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