The Pharmacist’s Role in Addressing the Opioid Crisis

Opioid abuse is a complex issue that needs to be tackled across multiple disciplines, including prescribers, patients and their pharmacists.

According to the California State Board of Pharmacy, pharmacists are actually “the last line of defense in preventing controlled substances from getting into the wrong hands.”

How Pharmacists Can Collaborate with Healthcare Providers

In a report from Morning Consult, 67% of patients stated that they had not talked with their provider about alternative treatments to prescription opioids for pain.

A study on the Educational Outreach to Opioid Prescribers identifies academic detailing as a potentially effective preventative measure to address the epidemic. This one-on-one meeting between pharmacists and healthcare providers is both beneficial and convenient for providers, helping them stay up to date on improved prescribing decisions and alternative patient care.

Pharmacists can also advocate for co-prescribing naloxone to patients at high risk for opioid abuse. Some states now have a “standing order” that allows pharmacists to issue naloxone to anyone at-risk of opioid abuse.

If a pharmacist does suspect opioid abuse, the pharmacist should contact the prescriber for prescription verification. Pharmacists and healthcare providers should work together to ensure safe opioid use for their mutual patients.

The Drug Consultation Can Be Useful for Education and Screening

According to the same poll, 60% of respondents also said their healthcare provider and their pharmacist did not talk to them about safe storage or disposal of prescription opioids. The consultation is a great place for the pharmacist to educate the patient on opioid treatment. Key topics for discussion include medication side effects, addictive properties, proper storage, and appropriate disposal. Patient rights, such as a partial fill, and medication alternatives should also be addressed.

More than 70% of those surveyed said detailed instructions from pharmacists would make a meaningful difference in addressing the crisis.

Pharmacists can also use the consultation as a screening tool. Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent drug abuse. It is most often used in medical settings and workplace wellness programs but can be very beneficial in the pharmacy.

Next Steps if Opioid Abuse is Suspected

If the consultation raises red flags, consider speaking with the prescriber. Prescription drug monitoring programs can give pharmacists additional insight into the situation. The information can be used to exercise professional judgment and ensure safe dispensing of the medication.

If there is evidence of prescription drug abuse, the pharmacist should contact the State Board of Pharmacy or the local DEA office. If a prescription has been forged, altered or counterfeited in any way, contact the local police.

Implement Networking Opportunities

Most opioid abusers will seek out areas where communication and cooperation between the pharmacist and the healthcare provider are minimal or nonexistent. It is imperative that local pharmacists and healthcare providers work closely together to alleviate the opioid crisis.

According to Jack H. Raber, Pharm.D., a clinician of over 40 years of who teaches pharmacy risk assessment and management, “Pharmacists have to use their training, their education, their skill – the totality of their experience – to determine if a prescription should leave the pharmacy as written or if it needs further investigation.”

Collaboration with healthcare providers can put a preventive system in place, but the pharmacist is ultimately the last line of defense.