Today the drugstore chain announced a new plan to limit opioid drugs in an effort to fight the epidemic of overdose-related deaths in America.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Updated: September 22, 2017
Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to the opioid drug crisis in America, two things are certain: It's a huge problem that is only getting bigger and no one quite knows how to deal with it. But today marks the addition of an important new tool in the fight against opioid abuse and, nope, it isn't coming from doctors or the government. Today, CVS, a nationwide chain of drugstores, announced it will be limiting opioid drug prescriptions, becoming the first pharmacy to take this kind of measure.

Starting February 1, 2018, patients will be limited to a seven-day supply of these powerful, addictive painkillers. Under the new plan, if pharmacists see a prescription for a dosage lasting longer than that, they'll contact the doctor to revise it. CVS also announced that they will only dispense extended-release versions of prescription painkillers-the type most likely to lead to addiction and abuse-under certain conditions, such as when a patient has already tried immediate-release painkillers with suboptimal results. Pharmacists will also be required to talk with patients about the risks of addiction and secure storage of medications in the home, as well as provide customers with directions on proper disposal. (Related: Everything You Should Know Before Taking Prescription Painkillers)

While this news is a small victory in the war against overprescribing opioids in this country, the announcement has been met with mixed feelings. Chronic and intense pain is, understandably, something people want to avoid. Yet opioid medications-including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet, among others-seem to cause as many problems as they solve, leading to abuse, addiction, overdose, and even death. In fact, we previously reported that the American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates that nearly 2 million Americans are currently addicted to opioids. Finding a line between pain relief and introducing new problems is tricky, to say the least.

"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," said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health in a statement.

"We think this can help make an impact.... I think as health care stakeholders, we all play an important role in being part of the solution," Merlo told USA Today. The company's prescription drug management division, CVS Caremark, provides medications to nearly 90 million people. CVS is extending their impact further by announcing that they will increase their donations to drug treatment programs by $2 million dollars and provide resources for help at their 9,700 clinics.

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