Amid Purdue criticism, CVS cuts opioid access for 'risky' prescribers

Risky prescribers of opioid painkillers have come under the microscope over the past couple of weeks, and now CVS Caremark ($CVS) is turning up the heat. Wednesday, the pharmacy chain said it had stopped filling prescriptions for doctors who prescribe the addictive drugs at remarkably high rates. And it's hinting that other pharmacies should do the same.

"This isn't a definitive solution to the problem," CVS' chief medical officer, Troyen Brennan, told Reuters after the drugstore chain cut off access to more than 36 doctors and other healthcare providers. "We wanted to share what it was that we did and have other people in healthcare, including other pharmacies, look at what we did and discuss what some more comprehensive solutions might be."

As Reuters reports, CVS said the suspensions came after an analysis of prescriptions for a number of highly addictive compounds from March 2010 to January 2012. The company trolled its database of nearly 1 million providers to identify several dozen whose prescribing patterns didn't seem to fit. One "outlier prescriber," the company said, had prescribed more than 44,000 doses of addictive drugs, compared with 662 written by similar providers.

The CVS announcement comes amid a debate over suspect OxyContin prescribers. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Purdue Pharma, which makes the notoriously addictive painkiller OxyContin, had compiled a list of more than 1,800 doctors suspected of reckless script-writing. The Stamford, CT, drugmaker had shared only a small fraction of those names with authorities. Political pressure to turn over the names began mounting shortly thereafter. State senators in California and Nevada scolded Purdue for failing to flag suspect cases and tagged the company with an "ethical, if not legal duty" to inform state authorities of those who appear to prescribe the drug irresponsibly.

Pharmacies and drug distributors, including CVS itself, have been burned by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on high-risk drug prescriptions in the past. Last February, the DEA suspended work at a Cardinal Health facility in Florida on allegations that some prescriptions filled there were not written for legitimate medical reasons. That September, the agency also revoked the controlled substance licenses of two Florida CVS locations. Most recently, Walgreen agreed to an $80 million fine to settle federal charges that it failed to properly control narcotic painkiller sales at some of its locations.

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