National Pharmacy Chain Responds To Opiate Epidemic with Stiffer Controls

US Map
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) of opioids prescribed per capita in 2015 and change in MMEs per capita during 2010–2015, by county—the United States, 2010–2015

As our nation suffers from the single worst opiate epidemic that it has ever faced, the American people are in a frantic state looking for solutions to the problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specified that the problem took the U.S. twenty years to fall into and that the nation isn’t going to come out of the crisis overnight. However, that hasn’t stopped the American people from scrambling to find ways to cut back on opiate abuse.

One organization that is making waves in doing their best to reduce pharmaceutical opioid abuse is the company CVS Pharmacy. CVS decided to combat the opioid crisis by capping the length and potency of prescriptions for opioids that they were willing to fill, by limiting supplies of opiates in their pharmacies, by providing better information on the risks of opiate abuse, and by offering prescription drug take-back programs and IV needle disposal programs within their own pharmacies.


CVS’s Move to Curb Drug Abuse

Towards the end of last year, CVS Pharmacy released a statement that they would be limiting the supply of opioids dispensable at any CVS location to no more than seven-day supplies. Furthermore, CVS said they would start limiting the daily amount of opioids that patients were allowed to take in a day. Will this lose some business for CVS? Yes. Is it the first major move that a pharmaceutical group has made in curbing the opiate epidemic? Also yes.

Another strategy that CVS is going to be implementing is that they are going to have doctors on hand to talk with patients about the real risks involved with taking pain pills. Last but not least, CVS Pharmacy will also bump up its efforts at creating disposal units for IV syringes and for unused pharmaceuticals by adding 750 disposal units to 750 CVS locations.

Good Change on the Way

CVS has set a precedent by implementing these four changes. The company’s new, seven-day policy will severely limit the size of prescriptions that patients will be able to fill. The average pill supply in the U.S. jumped from thirteen days worth of pills in 2006 to eighteen days in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obviously, patients are very used to getting their pills and to have a large supply of them at any time—not anymore.

  • CVS will lose some business over these changes. But these are the right changes and the changes that need to be made. Some CVS Pharmacy locations get asked to fill sixty-day prescriptions. Now, CVS will only fill prescriptions for short-term, acute, non-lasting pain treatment.
  • As if the seven-day restriction wasn’t impressive enough, CVS has also limited the strength of opiates they are willing to dole out. Again, this will lose them some business, but again, this is important for growth in the right direction.
  • Another positive move is CVS’s insistence to build drop-off units in every one of their pharmacies. In this way, patients or addicts can even come into the pharmacy and safely rid themselves of any pills or IV syringes they may have on them. This can often be the first step towards making a better, more positive life change.

Even with big moves like what CVS has done, other pharmacies will have to follow suit if real change is going to occur on the pharmacy side of the American opioid addiction crisis. Pharmacies are not the Ground Zero of the opiate epidemic, but they are certainly a factor. CVS Pharmacy has committed to their own, key strategies to reduce opiate abuse—now the other pharmacies need to follow suit.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.