This Week: Two Developments in the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter this week to Marilyn Tavenner, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, urging her trade association and its member health insurance companies to take proactive steps to address the nation’s opioid epidemic, specifically to prioritize non-opioid pain management options over opioid prescriptions in the case of chronic, non-cancer pain. On Sept. 17, the New York Times published an article examining how insurers may restrict access to less addictive, but more expense painkillers than opioids.

The Attorneys General called the opioid epidemic the preeminent public health crisis of our time. They cited CDC’s estimate that the epidemic costs the nation $78.5 billion annually. NAAG’s letter says that state and local governments spend nearly $8 billion a year on criminal justice costs related to opioid abuse.

CVS Health announced this week, they will be the first national pharmacy company to limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for certain conditions. The restriction will be for patients new to pain therapy, roll out Feb. 1, 2018 and apply to all commercial, health plan, employer and Medicaid clients. CNN reports this moves CVS closer to alignment with CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines, recently updated to tackle the growing epidemic.

At the same time, CVS announced it would expand its drug disposal program, adding collection kiosks in 750 CVS stores across the county, and the CVS Foundation would provide $2 million to federally-qualified community health centers, or FQHCs to deliver medication-assisted treatment and other recovery services.