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Warren, Capito push for partial fill prescription option

A pharmacy tech poses for a picture with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin.
A pharmacy tech poses for a picture with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin.Associated Press/Sue Ogrocki, File

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito want major players in the battle against the nation’s opioid epidemic to consider promoting and analyzing “partial fill” policies, which allow patients to receive less than a full prescription’s worth of medication on a single pharmacy trip.

A clause in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed in 2016, permits pharmacies to dispense portions of prescriptions for Schedule II drugs — a classification that includes many opioid-based painkillers with high potential for abuse — and for patients to return later if they feel the remainder of prescribed medication is needed.


“Our idea was simple: empower patients to have a conversation with their health providers and pharmacists about how many prescription drugs they felt comfortable having in their home,” Warren, a Democrat, and Capito, a Republican, wrote in letters to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, all 50 state governors, 11 major medical member organizations, and Massachusetts Health Commissioner Monica Bharel.

Capito has been a major proponent of adding federal resources to the crisis response, advocating for a $45 billion fund for treatment and prevention efforts as the Senate debated a broad health reform proposal in July. Warren, like Capito, hails from a state with a rising overdose rate.

Efforts to promote disposal of unused painkillers have been recommended and implemented by state and local officials working to prevent overdoses and to keep people who weren’t prescribed drugs from using them. The clause included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and Warren and Capito’s current outreach aim to prevent substantial amounts of drugs from going unused in the first place.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 80 percent of people at the highest risk of overdose obtained pills that were legally prescribed to someone — including themselves, friends, or relatives,” the letter reads.


The letter asked the governors and medical organizations a series of questions about means of outreach to constituents and members, and requested that the FDA’s Opioid Steering Committee consider how such policies “can help limit the volume of unused medications in circulation and advance our shared goal of curbing the opioid epidemic.”

Lev Facher can be reached at lev.facher@statnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @levfacher.