Prescription drug abuse has become a national epidemic. The use of controlled substances has increased dramatically, with prescriptions for opioids jumping more than 300 percent between 1999 and 2010. Overdose deaths increased from 4,000 annually to 16,600 during the same period. Such overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and more than 2.4 million people were considered to be opioid abusers in 2010.
Increases in substance abuse treatment hospital admissions, emergency department visits, and overdose deaths linked to prescription drug abuse place enormous burden on communities across the U.S.
As the largest U.S. pharmacy based on total prescription revenue and as an employer of 26,000 pharmacists who dispense prescriptions and counsel patients, CVS Caremark is uniquely positioned to play a role in helping to stop the prescription drug epidemic. The size of our customer base, combined with the sophistication of our national computer network make us ideal partners in efforts to reduce prescription drug abuse.
Recently, CVS Caremark identified physicians and prescribers who exhibited extreme patterns of prescribing of “high risk drugs” by studying their volume and share of prescriptions for high-risk drugs versus other providers in the same specialty and geographic region, as well as the ages of patients and their payment methods. The program identified 42 outlying prescribers who were then asked to provide additional information about their prescribing habits. Of these, only six identified legitimate reasons for their unusual prescribing practices. As a result of the analysis and outreach, CVS Caremark suspended controlled substance dispensing through the company’s CVS/pharmacy locations and the CVS Caremark Mail Service pharmacies for prescriptions written by the other 36 providers.
CVS Caremark is also working at the federal and state levels to implement policy changes to curb prescription drug abuse, including:
- Mandatory Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances: We are urging federal regulators to require e-prescribing for these classes of drugs to reduce “doctor shopping,” drug diversion and unnecessary prescriptions.
- Improved Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs): These state-run databases are operating in 46 states to help providers and pharmacists identify patients at risk of overdose and drug abuse, but improvements are needed to encourage interoperability between different states and make PDMP data directly available to prescribers and dispensers. We are prepared to support efforts to create incentives to improve inter-state connectivity, the timeliness of data, as well as unifying various standard submissions
- Proper Prescription Drug Disposal: CVS Caremark is committed to working with federal and state officials on more innovative and effective ways to manage drug take-back initiatives.
Prescription drug abuse in this country may be an epidemic, but it doesn’t have to be. Government measures, on the local, state and federal levels, may begin to help put an end to this crisis. And the private sector can also do its part. With the help of policy makers and regulators, CVS Caremark is committed to advancing legislation, promoting technology and creating safer communities.