Community Pharmacy Intervention Reduces Opioid Use and Saves Lives

With the Opioid Abuse Epidemic being a major concern in healthcare today, an article caught my eye as I was wondering what this blog would be about.  After reading it, I was struck by how successful this community screening might be if implemented in all pharmacies across our country.

A Community pharmacy in Fargo, ND implemented a questionnaire and screening to be given to their patients who have been on painkillers for long periods of time.  These patients are high-functioning, gainfully employed individuals with families and life obligations who for chronic pain conditions have used opioids on a regular basis. Opioid addiction affects many people in all walks of life, from the youth and elderly to blue collar workers and white collar professionals.. Many of these patients feel that the painkillers have exerted a certain level of control over their life since they have become physically dependent on the drug through no fault of their own. Physical dependence on these drugs can cause serious withdrawal symptoms when no longer prescribed or suddenly stopped by their physician.

A grant funded by the North Dakota Department of Human Services, the Alex Stern Foundation, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Caring Foundation gave pharmacists across the state extra time to screen their patients for risk of opioid misuse and accidental overdose.

“Pharmacists are the most accessible health care provider and among the most well positioned to tackle the opioid crisis head on” said Elizabeth Soy, PharmD., who oversees this pharmacy ONERx program. In addition, many patients trust their pharmacists as much or more than their doctor and may be willing to be more forthcoming when discussing such a delicate problem. These grants can reimburse pharmacists for their time in assessing patients who may be at risk for developing dependency on opioids and even dispense the drug Naloxone ( preventing withdrawal symptoms )  to ease their transition off of these risky drugs. Providing education and counseling according to a patients risk score has proven effective at making patients aware of potential problems and only takes a few minutes to complete. This pharmacy in Fargo ND has greatly reduced the number of patients currently taking prescription painkillers and no doubt saved lives!

The concern of course is that Pharmacists need to be paid at some point for the services they provide and without these grants there is no way for them to be reimbursed for their time and service . Insurance companies should reimburse for services such as these that can help control healthcare cost by reducing hospitializations and expensive rehab programs.

Perhaps all states should model a program such as this and lobby for insurance companies to help shoulder the cost.  This could be a beginning to combatting an epidemic!