Walmart Will Limit Length of Opioid Prescriptions for First-Time Patients

Walmart (WMT) has adopted a corporate policy limiting first-time opioid prescriptions to a maximum seven-day supply, with a 50 morphine milligram limit per day.

The changes will take effect at all U.S. Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies within 60 days, including Puerto Rico locations. The policy is based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If state guidelines call for stricter measures for initial opioid prescriptions, the company said it will follow those measures instead.

The company also plans other changes regarding opioids, including the installation of NarxCare, a controlled substance tracking tool. In states that allow the tool, the company will give its pharmacists access to the tool to provide dispensing guidance based on data from NarxCare.

Walmart is also committing to a new requirement as of Jan. 1 2020, when controlled substance prescriptions will only be accepted as e-prescriptions in an effort to reduce errors and forged prescriptions. E-prescriptions are also more easily tracked.

"We are taking action in the fight against the nation's opioid epidemic," said Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of Health & Wellness and Consumables, Walmart U.S. in a statement. "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 company did not respond to a request for information about the percentage of prescriptions opioids represent for the company.

Limiting the amount of opioids taken as well as the length of time do have an impact on the chances that a patient can become dependent on the drug. But the American Medical Association has pushed back against companies like Walmart setting limits and impacting a physician's ability to treat patients in a manner determined by the doctor.

Walmart ranks No. 3 in terms of revenues derived from prescription sales among pharmacy companies in the U.S., according to Drug Channels. The Arkansas-company totaled $20.6 billion in 2016, behind CVS Health Corp. (CVS) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) .

In terms of market share, Walmart has 5%, trailing CVS at 23.4%, Walgreens at 13.8% and Express Scripts (ESRX) at 10.6%.

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