How Are Pharmacists Handling the Opioid Epidemic?

Pharmacists and pharmacies are at the front line of this opioid epidemic. They are an essential part of the health care team and responsible for dispensing medication to individuals. Pharmacists can serve as the first line of defense by helping with prevention and treatment efforts of opioid use disorder and overdose.

Roles of a Pharmacist

Pharmacists have several complex roles when it comes to this opioid epidemic. They must evaluate new prescriptions with current treatments, determine whether medications are properly or improperly prescribed, and assess prescription orders forgery or alteration.

Some of the red flags they look for are forged prescriptions, prescriptions that originate from outside the immediate geographical area, altered prescriptions, cash payments, multiple prescribers, and inconsistent or early fills. They must constantly assess the situation and verify and validate the prescriber’s DEA registration and patient identification. They have to consult by checking the prescription drug monitoring program and patient records. Lastly, communicate by contacting the prescriber with questions or concerns and talk to the patient.

Pharmacists Are Part of the Team

Pharmacists play a very important role and are responsible for educating patients on risks and ways to manage risks regarding opioid use. The National Institute of Health “Promising Roles for Pharmacists in Addressing the U.S. Opioid Crisis” says:

In addition to utilizing available prescription drug monitoring programs to help prevent diversion of opioids, practicing pharmacists can be alert for signs of opioid misuse by patients (e.g., multiple prescriptions from different physicians) as well as inappropriate prescribing or hazardous drug combinations that physicians may not be aware of (e.g., opioid analgesics combined with benzodiazepines). They can also supply patients with information on the risks of opioids, proper storage and disposal of medications, and the harms (and illegality) of sharing medications with other people. Increasingly, pharmacies are sites of distribution of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which has been shown to save lives when made available to opioid users and their families or other potential bystanders to an overdose; and pharmacists can provide guidance about its use and even legal protections for bystanders to an overdose that customers may not be aware of. (NIH)

The CDC states that prescribers and pharmacists share a common goal, and that is to ensure safe and effective treatment for all patients.

Getting to Know Their Patients

Pharmacists have a critical responsibility for getting to know their patients and engaging in their care. More pharmacists should be educating and dispensing naloxone in their pharmacies, especially to those in MAT programs or for anyone receiving treatment for chronic pain. It is vital to prevent more opioid overdose and overdose fatalities.

For this opioid epidemic to get better, everyone has to work together and communicate. Each person’s healthcare team member has their responsibility and must keep their patients educated on the safe use of opioids and any other medications the patient may be taking.

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