Health & Medicine

Pharmacy chain in SLO says it will limit opioid prescriptions

Prescription painkiller and potential source of addiction OxyContin, photographed Feb. 11, 2016, at the University of Kansas' pharmacy.
Prescription painkiller and potential source of addiction OxyContin, photographed Feb. 11, 2016, at the University of Kansas' pharmacy.

A prominent local pharmacy retailer announced this week it will limit opioid prescription fills to seven days “for certain acute prescriptions.” It’s a bid to curb epidemic opioid abuse levels, but some chronic pain patient advocates call it overly harsh to legitimate users.

CVS, which has 10 locations throughout San Luis Obispo County, made the announcement on its website Thursday as part of an overall response to an opioid crisis that killed tens of thousands of people in the U.S. in 2016, including 36 in SLO County, according to the county public health department.

“The opioid epidemic touches all of the communities we serve, and as a pharmacy innovation company, we are in a unique position to make a difference,” the CVS statement read.

In addition to restricting certain prescription fill amounts, CVS also will limit the daily dosage opiates dispensed based on the strength of the opioid and require the use of immediate-release formulations of opioids “before extended-release opioids are dispensed.”

In SLO County, many CVS locations also sell the anti-opioid overdose medication naloxone without a prescription.

According to the San Luis Obispo Opioid Safety Coalition, 226,145 opioid prescriptions were written in SLO County in 2016.

The subject of restricting opioid prescriptions has triggered “a civil war” in the pain management medical community, Dr. Daniel B. Carr, of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, told medical news journal STAT.

“One group believes the primary goal of pain treatment is curtailing opioid prescribing. The other group looks at the disability, the human suffering, the expense of chronic pain,” Carr said in that interview.

Among those in the latter camp was Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of pain medicine and director of the Systems Neuroscience and Pain Lab at Stanford School of Medicine.

“CVS’ proposal to limit opioid prescriptions to 7 days is wrong. The decision should be between the patient and their doctor,” Mackey wrote in a Thursday tweet.

NBC News reports CVS is the first national pharmacy retailer to limit opioid prescriptions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a July 7, 2017, report, found that “despite significant decreases (in prescriptions since 2010), the amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 remained approximately three times as high as in 1999 and varied substantially across the country.”

The wording of the CVS statement made it unclear whether, and how, the policy would apply to chronic pain opioid prescriptions. Several local CVS pharmacists declined to comment on what the policy change means and referred The Tribune to a corporate media representative, who was not available for comment.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler