Epidemic Levels of Prescription Painkiller Abuse: What Pharmacists Can Do About It

by Tera Tuten on December 15, 2011

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription medications now kill more people in the United States than cocaine and heroin combined. The numbers have more than tripled in the past 10 years. During roughly the same time frame, the sales for these medications has tripled. About 40 people die each day from overdoses on narcotic pain relievers such as methadone, oxymorphone, and hydrocodone. According to the CDC, it will take the efforts of all involved parties to reduce this alarming trend. Patients, health care providers, insurers, states, and pharmacies will all have to play a role if the problem is to be corrected.

Why should pharmacists care?
Why is it up to you, as a pharmacist to care about prescription abuse? Technically, it probably isn’t. If you’ve made sure you filled the prescription properly and verified it was from a legitimate physician, you have legally done your job. This is fine for the letter of the law, but your position affords you a level of esteem and trust that can be used to benefit not only your clients, but your entire community.

What can pharmacies do?
There are several state and federal mandates that will affect pharmacies, such as prescription drug monitoring programs and patient restriction programs, but what if you want to do more? Locate reputable drug rehabilitation facilities in the area and provide poster, brochure, or bulletin boards with their contact information as well as signs that a person could be addicted to prescription medications. If there are local substance abuse groups such as Narcotics Anonymous in the area, ask them for literature to display in your pharmacy for customers who may be interested. Include handouts that include information from the CDC study on the dangers of becoming addicted to these medications and the hazards of overdosing.

Spread the Word
While it is easy to reach adults as they enter the facility, it is much more difficult to reach children and adolescents. Offer to speak in area schools to warn students about the dangers of using prescription medications for anything other than what they were prescribed for. Many students incorrectly assume that if it is a prescription, it must be completely safe. While this is generally true if it is used as intended, it can quickly become deadly for a student who is using it improperly or who has a condition that is incompatible with certain types of medications. If the school is receptive, this could be coordinated with a student advocacy group and turned into a week- or month-long awareness campaign with additional speakers, contests, and school decorations.

As a pharmacist, what do you do to help make sure your clients and others in your community are not being harmed by the medications you have dispensed? Do you feel it is your responsibility to do anything at all or are you content with simply fulfilling your job duties to the best of your ability?


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