from the addiction-sucks dept.
Drug-store chain CVS Health announced Thursday that it will limit opioid prescriptions in an effort to combat the epidemic that accounted for 64,000 overdose deaths last year alone.
Amid pressure on pharmacists, doctors, insurers and drug companies to take action, CVS also said it would boost funding for addiction programs, counseling and safe disposal of opioids.
[...] The company's prescription drug management division, CVS Caremark, which provides medications to nearly 90 million people, said it would use its sweeping influence to limit initial opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing acute ailments.
It will instruct pharmacists to contact doctors when they encounter prescriptions that appear to offer more medication than would be deemed necessary for a patient's recovery. The doctor would be asked to revise it. Pharmacists already reach out to physicians for other reasons, such as when they prescribe medications that aren't covered by a patient's insurance plan.
The plan also involves capping daily dosages and initially requiring patients to get versions of the medications that dispense pain relief for a short period instead of a longer duration.
[...] "The whole effort here is to try to reduce the number of people who are going to end up with some sort of opioid addiction problem," CVS Chief Medical Officer Troyen Brennan said in an interview.
It appears this initiative is limited to initial filling of prescriptions — there is no mention of changes in the handling of refills.
Pain-pill giant Purdue Pharma LP will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company's aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation of the U.S. addiction crisis.
The company told employees this week that it would cut its sales force by more than half, to 200 workers. It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its salespeople will no longer come to their clinics to talk about the company's pain products.
"We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers," the company said in a statement. Instead, any questions doctors have will be directed to the Stamford, Connecticut-based company's medical affairs department.
OxyContin, approved in 1995, is the closely held company's biggest-selling drug, though sales of the pain pill have declined in recent years amid competition from generics. It generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions. It also sells the painkiller Hysingla.
Related: Opioid Crisis Partly Blamed on a 1980 Letter to the New England Journal of Medicine
President Trump Declares the Opioid Crisis a National Emergency
Study Finds Stark Increase in Opioid-Related Admissions, Deaths in Nation's ICUs
CVS Limits Opioid Prescriptions
Congress Reacts to Reports that a 2016 Law Hindered DEA's Ability to go after Opioid Distributors
Opioid Crisis Official; Insys Therapeutics Billionaire Founder Charged; Walgreens Stocks Narcan
Congress has responded strongly to a joint investigation by CBS and The Washington Post (archive) about Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) employees becoming lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry, and the passage of a bill in 2016 hobbling the DEA's ability to go after opioid distributors and suspicious drug sales:
Lawmakers and the Drug Enforcement Administration are facing tough questions following an explosive joint investigation by "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post that says Congress helped disarm the DEA.
Drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than doubled over the past decade. The CDC says 188,000 people have died from opioid overdoses from 1999 to 2015.
Joe Rannazzisi used to run the DEA's diversion control. He told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bill Whitaker that the opioid crisis was aided in part by Congress, lobbyists and the drug distribution industry. The DEA says it has taken actions against far fewer opioid distributors under a new law. A Justice Department memo shows 65 doctors, pharmacies and drug companies received suspension orders in 2011. Only six of them have gotten them this year.
[...] [The] DEA's efforts may have been undermined by the so-called "revolving door" culture in Washington. At least 46 investigators, attorneys and supervisors from the DEA, including 32 directly from the division that regulates the drug industry, have been hired by the pharmaceutical industry since the scrutiny on distributors began.
From The Washington Post:
The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump's nominee to become the nation's next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.
CVS' MinuteClinics are going virtual. The drugstore chain plans to make video visits available nationwide by the end of the year through a partnership with Teladoc Health, CVS' latest pivot away from retail and toward health-care services. CVS already offers virtual appointments, branded as MinuteClinic Video Visits, in nine states and the District of Columbia.
MinuteClinics treat people with minor illness and injuries like coughs and rashes. These walk-in locations are a way to keep customers coming into CVS' stores as more shoppers buy everyday items on Amazon. Making it possible to visit a MinuteClinic without actually walking into one may hamper that, but it could help CVS reach more people.
With virtual visits, known in the industry as telehealth or telemedicine, CVS can reach people who may not be able to visit one of its roughly 1,100 locations. MinuteClinics are a key part of CVS' $69 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna.
Also at USA Today.