Pharmacy Update: August 8

There are about 25,000 small chain and independent pharmacies in the United States, most of which are single location operated by a pharmacist owner. They deal with enormous challenges. Yes, profit margins on prescriptions are dropping, but independent pharmacy owners are operating smarter.

Technology allows them to fill prescriptions faster and more accurately. But more importantly, they are finding ways to manage the business aspects of their practice better. And, the owners who have “cracked the code” are buying existing pharmacies and using their newfound business skills to improve the profits on their new stores.

Walgreens is closing 200 stores, but declines to release the list of location closures. This represents less than 3 percent of its 10,000 locations. The company says it hopes to save $1.5 billion in annual expenses by fiscal year 2022. Walgreens bought 1,932 Rite Aid locations in 2018 but has since closed 631 of those stores and plans to eliminate another 119. It didn’t say how many employees lost their jobs in those closures. Analysts sad the stores are under severe threat from online shopping.

Medicare will begin covering the growing collection of imnunotherapy drugs referred to as CAR T-cell therapy for cancer patients being treated in some healthcare facilities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced August 7.

Breaches of patient privacy appear to be on the rise in the first half of 2019 with an alarming number of records affected by security incidents: 31.6 million. That’s more than double what the healthcare industry experienced throughout the entire year of 2018, with 14.2 million patient records affected by breach incidents.

While hackers represent a serious threat to healthcare organizations, insiders or staff members within the organizations also pose a risk to security and privacy. Insiders were responsible for breaching more than 3 million patient records and 20% of total breaches so far in 2019. Insiders have legitimate reasons to have access to electronic health records, making it easier for inappropriate accesses t go under the radar.

Prescriptions for naloxone have surged in recent years, as communities struggling with opioid addiction have embraced the overdose-reversng medication. But a new federal report indicates uptake of the antidote is still lagging in much of the country. While the number of naloxone prescriptions doubled from 2017 to 2018, there was still only one dispensed for every 69 high-dose opioid prescriptions, according to the CDC. The CDC recommended that doctors offer naloxone to chronic pain patient when they prescribe opioids at high doses, which come with higher risks of overdoses.

A new Economic Inquiry study finds that marijuana access leads to reduction in opioid-related deaths. The study examined how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the U.S. over the past two decades. Investigators found that legalization and access to recreational marijuana reduced annual opioid mortality in the range of 20% to 35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.

CVS and Walgreens say PillPack is requesting transfers of prescriptions for patients who haven’t provided consent. The conflict started heating up immediately after Amazon purchased PillPack in mid-2018 for $753 million. It’s part of a broader challenge that Amazon faces as it attempts to upend the traditional pharmacy market and become a major player in prescription drug delivery.

The FDA says Novartis submitted a drug application with manipulated data and didn’t inform regulators of the issue until one month after approval. The company was aware of the issue two months before the FDA approved the drug, the agency said. There is potential for civil or criminal penalties.