In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. According to government statistics, prescription opioid sales in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. And in a 15-year study, the American Medical Association found that the number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. increased by 345 percent – from 9,489 to 42,245 – between 2001 and 2016.
Those are staggering numbers, and this crisis has everyone in the health care profession scrambling to find a solution.
That includes pharmacists. In fact, with their unique position on the front lines of dispensing opioid pain medications and providing medication-related services, pharmacists are under increasing pressure to take an even greater role in managing patient care and preventing opioid abuse.
For pharmacies to be an effective force in this battle, collaboration is crucial.
Effectively monitoring and managing opioids requires a multifaceted approach that includes close collaboration with multiple entities. Here are five crucial partnerships you must cultivate to play your most effective role in this crisis.
- Patients. As a key component in the health care of the community, pharmacists are in the best position to help patients manage pain medications while also educating them about the risk of using opioids and the risk of addiction. Be a proactive communicator and talk to them about proper use of opioids, side effects, refill protocols, and safe storage and disposal procedures. Ask open-ended questions, be empathetic, use active listening, provide clear and jargon-free explanations, and offer plenty of answers and information. Use technology such as email, texting, mobile apps, personalized QR codes on prescription labels, or electronic receipts linking to instructional videos to more personally connect with and educate patients.
- Employees. Another unfortunate aspect of the opioid crisis is employee theft. It’s a serious enough problem that it involves the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and many state pharmacy boards. California now requires pharmacies and clinics to conduct periodic inventories and inventory reconciliations for all controlled substances. So it’s crucial to build relationships with your staff, get everyone on the same page in keeping inventory, and make accountability a team effort. At the same time, be diligent about monitoring your employees.
- Prescribers. Patients want and deserve safe and effective treatment, and pharmacists and prescribers share the common goal of seeing they get it. The CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain puts great emphasis on patient safety, and pharmacists and prescribers are encouraged to collaborate in integrated pain management and team-based treatment practices. By cultivating this relationship, pharmacists can help optimize patient pain management while preventing opioid abuse, and even help prescribers find alternatives to opioids.
- Public health agencies. The opioid crisis offers pharmacies a golden opportunity to more closely collaborate with public health agencies to help reduce the addiction rate, facilitate addiction treatment, provide access to medication such as naloxone for overdoses, and coordinate drug takeback programs for safe disposal of unused opioid medications.
- State and federal agencies. Legislators in most states are looking to pharmacists to do more to combat the opioid crisis. By integrating individual state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and other databases into pharmacy management systems, pharmacists can better collaborate with physicians, other pharmacies, and local law enforcement to identify, avoid, address, and limit potential abuse or misuse situations.
Monitoring and managing opioids is a crucial part of your safety and risk management strategies, and building partnerships is key. It’s also smart to partner with a knowledgeable risk management professional.