CVS Health, the largest pharmacy chain in the country, will no longer fill prescriptions for controlled drugs ordered by providers who work for telehealth companies Cerebral and Done Health, starting Thursday.
The pharmacy retail giant recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications. "As a result of our being unable to resolve concerns we have with Cerebral and Done Health, effective May 26, 2022 CVS Pharmacy will no longer accept prescriptions for controlled substances issued through these companies," a spokesperson said in a statement to Fierce Healthcare Wednesday.
"We are committed to making mental health services as accessible and convenient as possible. At the same time, it is important that medications are prescribed appropriately," the CVS spokesperson said.
The changes, first reported by The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, come as Cerebral is mired in a federal investigation into its prescribing practices and "possible violations" of the Controlled Substances Act.
Last week, Cerebral said it will no longer prescribe most controlled substances to patients starting May 20, citing the eventual expiration of telehealth waivers that allowed online prescriptions for drugs like Xanax and Adderall. Two days later, the company's board voted to replace CEO Kyle Robertson, a co-founder of the embattled startup. Dave Mou, M.D., the company's chief medical officer and president, has been tapped to take over for Robertson as Cerebral's CEO.
In a statement, Cerebral said the timing of CVS' decision was "unfortunate," given that the company was informed of the change on Tuesday and was in the process of transitioning away from prescribing of controlled substances as a company based on the impending expiration of waivers enacted during the state of emergency that allowed for such prescriptions to be filled.
Cerebral will stop prescribing controlled drugs to existing patients by Oct. 15.
"Cerebral officially ceased new prescriptions for controlled substances as of May 20 and had put into place plans to gradually transition patients currently taking controlled substances to establish a treatment plan to either transition their controlled substance to a non-controlled substance medication, titrate off of their controlled substance, or transfer their care to a local provider by October 15. Cerebral made this move to ensure that these patients’ transitions in care could proceed as smoothly and safely as possible," the Cerebral spokesperson said.
The Controlled Substances Act regulates the distribution of potentially addictive medicines like Adderall and Xanax.
In January 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it was loosening remote prescribing restrictions of Schedule 2 through Schedule 5 controlled substances for the duration of the public health emergency. In effect, this rolled back select provisions of the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, originally passed in 2008 to narrow the circumstances outlined in the Controlled Substances Act under which a controlled drug can be prescribed via telehealth.
Cerebral, which has a valuation of $4.8 billion, launched in January 2020 and grew rapidly, propelled by increased demand for behavioral health care services during the pandemic. The startup banked $300 million in a series C round in December, boosting its valuation to $4.8 billion.
In a statement, Cerebral executives said the company provides comprehensive, online mental health services for depression, anxiety, PTSD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder and a range of other conditions.
The well-funded online mental health startup has faced increased scrutiny from the media and former employees about its prescribing practices. Complaints have surfaced that the company has been too quick to prescribe powerful stimulant drugs.
San Francisco-based Done Health, launched in 2019, is a provider of personalized online treatment for ADHD.
Cerebral and Done are among a handful of virtual care startups that prescribe controlled substances without patients seeing a doctor in person.
"In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need," the Cerebral spokesperson said. "This includes reaching out individually to every patient impacted by this development to help ensure that their transition to another source of prescribed medications is as seamless as possible under these circumstances. Our focus is on the health of our patients."