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Res Social Adm Pharm. 2019 Aug;15(8):910-916. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2017.12.009. Epub 2017 Dec 31.

Promising roles for pharmacists in addressing the U.S. opioid crisis.

Author information

1
National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA. Electronic address: wcompton@nida.nih.gov.
2
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, USA.
3
National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Abstract

Overdoses of prescription or illicit opioids claimed the lives of 116 Americans each day in 2016, and the crisis continues to escalate. As healthcare systems evolve to address the crisis, the potential of pharmacists to make a positive difference is significant. 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 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. Pharmacists can also recommend addiction treatment to patients and be a resource for information on addiction treatment options in the community. As addiction treatment becomes more integrated with general healthcare, pharmacies are also increasingly dispensing medications like buprenorphine and, in the future, possibly methadone. Pharmacists in private research labs and at universities are helping to develop the next generation of addiction treatments and safer, non-addictive pain medications; they can also play a role in implementation research to enhance the delivery of addiction interventions and medications in pharmacy settings. Meanwhile, pharmacists in educational settings can promote improved education about the neurobiology and management of pain and its links to opioid misuse and addiction.

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