Walmart will begin restricting opioid painkillers it dispenses to customers as part of an effort to crack down on the nationwide drug-abuse epidemic.
All Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the U.S. and Puerto Rico will fill new acute opioid prescriptions with no more than a seven-day supply, and will cap the daily dosage at 50 morphine milligram equivalents, the retail giant said in a statement on Monday. The company said it will comply with states that already have laws stricter than its new policy.
“We are taking action in the fight against the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Marybeth Hays, the Walmart U.S. executive vice president of health, wellness and consumables. “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.”
The new curbs will begin within 60 days. Beginning in 2020, Walmart and Sam’s Club will require patients to submit e-prescriptions, which resist tampering, for controlled substances.
Opioid addiction appears to be worsening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency room visits connected with suspected opioid overdoses rose almost 30 percent in September from July 2016. Overdoses were increasing in all parts of the country, the study said, affecting a variety of age groups.
“We’re currently seeing the highest overdose death rates ever recorded in the United States,” said Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC.
Some of the country’s biggest insurance companies have begun tackling the problem. Aetna said in December it would waive copays for Narcan, a brand name for the opioid overdose-reversal medication naloxone, and would limit first-time opioid prescriptions. Both Cigna and Anthem have discussed ways to reduce opioid use among their customers.
Walmart said it offers DisposeRx, a powder for disposing of opioids, free in all of its pharmacies. It also dispenses naloxone upon request in states where it’s legal.
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to specify that the new Walmart policy applies to new acute opioid prescriptions, not all such prescriptions.