Take Back Our Health

Helping Fight Deadly, Costly Drug Abuse
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COMMENTARY
April 28, 2017
Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, CVS Health

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a good time to remember the rising toll of the opioid epidemic – and to look in our own medicine cabinets. Research shows that among teens who abuse prescription drugs, 38 percent obtained them from their parents’ medicine cabinet, and nearly 75 percent of teens say it’s easy to access prescription drugs in that way.

1 in 3 people report being personally impacted by prescription drug abuse. 50% are concerned that the unused medication in their home could be abused or misused. 1 in 5 respondents have had prescription medication stolen from their home or know someone who has
1 in 3 people report being personally impacted by prescription drug abuse. 50% are concerned that the unused medication in their home could be abused or misused. 1 in 5 respondents have had prescription medication stolen from their home or know someone who has

The effects of prescription drug abuse are widespread. As many as one in three people have been personally impacted by prescription drug abuse, according to a CVS Health/Morning Consult survey of 2,000 registered voters. Nearly 40 percent of respondents say the number of people they know who have been personally affected by the issue has increased in the last year. 

Nationally, more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than ever before, the majority of those from opioids. Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled. The annual price tag of opioid analgesic abuse, including health care, workplace and criminal justice system costs, tops $55 billion.

Keeping Medications Safe

One way to help keep medications from falling into the wrong hands is by disposing of them properly. Nearly one in three survey respondents said they had unused medications at home. Among survey respondents, 43 percent said they have thrown unused or expired medications in the trash, but 70 percent of people would use conveniently located disposal units to safely get rid of unwanted prescription drugs.

To help prevent the opioid epidemic from claiming even more lives, many CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide participate in Take Back Days, held twice a year. Nearly 140 pharmacy locations will be accepting unwanted prescription medications for safe disposal in the spring event tomorrow. These sites will supplement more than 750 year-round drug disposal locations donated to law enforcement agencies as part of CVS Health’s Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program. Since the program began in 2014, more than 80 metric tons – or 175,000 pounds – of unwanted medications have been collected for safe disposal, helping to prevent an entry point to drug abuse.

Want to learn more about the importance of proper drug disposal? Ask Us

Ongoing Surveillance

In addition to helping remove unwanted medications from circulation, as a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) we are in a unique position to help identify and prevent prescription drug abuse. PBMs have a window into all of a patient’s adjudicated prescription claims. We monitor our client plan populations for unusual and telltale patterns of potential abuse such as “doctor shopping” and “pharmacy shopping,” as well as obtaining a high number of controlled substances. 

Our core safety and monitoring programs include several of the most commonly abused drug classes such as narcotic and narcotic-combination drugs, benzodiazepine anti-anxiety and sedative/hypnotic agents, and non-benzodiazepine sedatives/hypnotics.

Helping Ensure Appropriate Use

Our utilization management (UM) strategy is based on the latest guideline from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with consideration for the needs of those with chronic pain, and the potential for harm from these potent medications. The criteria provides coverage that fosters safe use of opioids, consistent with the new morphine milligram equivalent (MME)-based CDC guideline, and includes limits on quantity, duration of use, and MME per day dosage for opioids. We also encourage use of non-opioid treatments first in treating chronic pain that is not related to cancer, hospice, or end-of life care. By more carefully considering which pain reliever is appropriate, what is the lowest dose needed, and when to discontinue treatment, prescribers can improve patient care while simultaneously helping mitigate drug abuse and overdose.

Other Ways to Prevent Abuse

There are other effective programs that can also help prevent abuse or mitigate its impact. We support prescription drug monitoring programs, which give prescribers and pharmacists real-time access to a patient’s drug dosage and combinations prescribed. The programs, available in 49 states, allow for monitoring of when and where prescriptions are filled, to guard against doctor and pharmacy shopping.

CVS Health has also worked to expand access to naloxone, an opioid overdose treatment, which is now available without a prescription, through a standing order, in CVS Pharmacy stores in 41 states. As part of the Safer Communities program, we enable patients to find a safe medication disposal site year-round in their community. CVS pharmacist volunteers have helped educate more than 230,000 students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Working together, and with a concerted, multi-pronged approach, we can help prevent prescription drug abuse and reduce the impact of this epidemic on our communities and nation. 

To find collection sites in your area, click here.

Want to learn more about how to prevent prescription drug abuse? Ask Us
COMMENTARY
April 28, 2017
Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, CVS Health
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