Pharmacy giant CVS announced plans to revoke more than 36 health care professionals’ privileges to dispense powerful prescription painkillers through their stores. The company chose to cut off access to doctors who had been found to over-prescribe the potentially lethal drugs in an effort to combat the rising tide of painkiller overdoses.
NBC News reports that CVS was involved in a government crackdown on painkiller abuse in 2012 and began cutting off prescription-heavy doctors soon after. In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors from CVS explained that, “[p]harmacies have a role to play in the oversight of prescriptions for controlled substances, and opioid analgesics [or painkillers] in particular.”
The authors noted that prescriptions for painkillers increased by over 300 percent between 1999 and 2010 while deaths due to painkiller overdose shot up four-fold in the same time period. It is now the second most common cause of accidental death in the United States and comprises 75 percent of all medication overdoses. A report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released in July found that prescription painkiller overdoses killed more women in 2010 than car accidents or cervical cancer.
Doctors may over-prescribe dangerous painkillers for personal profit. Many of them operate out of so-called “pill mills” — cash-only centers that dole out pain prescriptions to young patients who may have an addiction disorder.
“Our program is certainly not a comprehensive solution, but it provides some sense of the kind of inappropriate prescribing that is going on in our health care system,” said CVS spokespeople in their letter.