Study Highlights Opportunities for Pharmacies to Help Curb U.S. Opioid Epidemic, Bolster Other Public Health Efforts

When pharmacists are integrated into direct patient care in a team with other health professionals, there are positive effects on patient outcomes as well as reduced healthcare costs.

Strategic changes to government policy would present new opportunities for pharmacies in the United States to expand their already important role in critical initiatives that benefit public health, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and funded by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS).

The study, “Serving the Greater Good: Public Health and Community Pharmacy Partnerships,” found the collective group of chain and independent U.S. pharmacies remain an untapped resource in the effort to curb the national opioid crisis, stem the spread of antibiotic resistance, and strengthen pandemic and emergency preparedness and response. There is a growing public health need in these three key areas.

“When pharmacists are integrated into direct patient care in a team with other health professionals, there are positive effects on patient outcomes as well as reduced healthcare costs,” said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, PhD, senior associate at the Center and the study’s corresponding author. “What’s encouraging, though, is that more can be done to ensure pharmacy professionals practice at the ‘top of their license’—the peak of what they are capable and licensed to do to support public health.”

Changes to government policy headline myriad recommendations identified in the study that could have a significant positive impact on public health in the near future. Nowhere, though, is there a more immediate need to adjust policy in favor of community pharmacy than in the fight to curtail the opioid epidemic. For example, state-specific standing orders could be revised to permit pharmacists to dispense naloxone—a fast-acting drug that reduces the risk of respiratory failure after opioid overdose—without a prescription from a physician or nurse practitioner. Naloxone is FDA approved, is not a controlled substance, and is not addictive, yet only 23 states allow people to purchase naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription. In addition, burdensome liability, payment, and legality issues in some states continue to limit a pharmacy’s…

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