Walmart recently announced that Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies will soon implement new restrictions for filling opioid prescriptions, including a seven-day supply limit for patients with acute pain. These policies come after earlier company initiatives to curb what’s been called a “crisis” of opioid addiction, overdosing, and overprescribing in the US. We outline below what to expect with the policy rollout.
Walmart’s new opioid prescription policies
In their official statement, Walmart explains two new policies that will affect patients’ access to prescription painkillers:
First Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies will limit acute opioid prescription fills to a maximum of seven days. Daily doses for these prescriptions will be capped at a maximum of the equivalent of 50 morphine milligrams. In states where prescriptions are restricted to fewer than seven days, Walmart will follow state law.
Secondly, as a longer-term initiative, Walmart will require that all controlled-substance prescriptions be submitted electronically beginning January 1, 2020.
What This Means for Patients and Doctors
Acute Pain Management
For patients needing acute or short-time pain management, prescription painkiller fills will be limited to a seven-day supply or, depending on the state, as few as three. If pain lasts longer than that and patients need more of the medication, they will have to ask their doctor for a new prescription.
There is some concern that repeatedly filling new prescriptions can get costly for patients in terms of time and insurance co-pays. For this reason, doctors and patients are encouraged to discuss medications and savings options before committing to any treatment plan.
Chronic Pain Management
Chronic pain management will also get a bit more complicated, but don’t worry — prescriptions for long-term use can still be filled. A quick consultation with a Walmart pharmacist confirmed that doctors will still be able to write prescriptions that extend beyond the limits listed in Walmart’s new policies.
Here’s the stipulation: when pharmacists receive these prescriptions, they will contact the prescribing physician to verify through their own processes and judgement that the patient is indeed suffering from chronic pain before filling any prescriptions for opioids or other controlled substances.
Starting on January 1, 2020, any prescription for controlled substances at a Walmart or Sam’s Club pharmacy will require an electronically filed prescription. Walmart’s reasoning is that e-prescriptions are less prone to errors, alterations, and forgery. That means that handwritten, faxed, typed, or computer-generated and printed prescriptions for controlled substances will no longer be accepted, neither from doctors’ offices nor directly from patients.
Walmart’s announcement rides on the heels of a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March regarding opioid overdoses escalating by nearly 30% between late 2016 and late 2017. CVS pharmacies enacted similar restrictions on opioid prescriptions in February this year.
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