Walmart to restrict opioid prescriptions at its pharmacies

Walmart to restrict opioid prescriptions at its pharmacies
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Walmart pharmacies will soon limit the supply of first-time opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven days, an effort aimed at clamping down on an epidemic killing more people per year than car crashes.

The initiative will start within 60 days, the company announced Monday, and comes as an increasing number of states and entities in the health-care industry have placed limits on opioid prescriptions.

“We are taking action in the fight against the nation’s opioid epidemic,” Marybeth Hays, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness and consumables, said in a statement. The policies also apply to Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. “We are proud to implement these policies and initiatives as we work to create solutions that address this critical issue facing the patients and communities we serve.”

Additionally, the pharmacies will restrict the dosage to a maximum of 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day and, by Jan. 1, 2020, require e-prescriptions for controlled substances.

Opioid limits have garnered support from various stakeholders, and a bill in the Senate would restrict initial prescriptions for acute pain to three days. But not everyone is on board.

The American Medical Association (AMA), a powerful group of physicians, has argued that the limits are arbitrary and hurt a doctor’s ability to individualize care for each patient.

The AMA “supports and encourages judicious prescribing of opioids,” Dr. Patrice Harris, chairwoman of the association’s opioid task force, told The Hill last month. But the AMA has “grave concerns” about limits on both dosage and supply.

“Pain is a complex, biopsychosocial phenomenon, and individuals experience pain in different ways,” Harris said at the time. “The AMA believes that decisions around dosages needs to be left between the patient and the physician.”

Supporters of the proposal have countered that such limits are important to stem overprescribing, lower the amount of painkillers available to be illegally diverted and decrease the potential for addiction.