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    A Bigger Role for Pharmacists

    From bioterror attacks to the opioid epidemic, pharmacists are in a great place to help.

    Community pharmacists should be leveraged more to help combat the opioid abuse epidemic, as well as plan for emergencies such as bioterror attacks and help prevent antibiotic resistance, according to a recent study.

    The study, “Serving the Greater Good: Public Health and Community Pharmacy Partnerships,” was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and was funded by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS).

    “In the past decade, community pharmacy has often been referred to as an ‘untapped resource’ for public health. Now more than ever, in a time of declining public health budgets, public health should leverage pharmacies to advance community-based priorities,” Kathleen Jaeger, NACDS Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Care and Patient Advocacy, told Drug Topics.

    Related article: Pharmacy Is Dead

    “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,” added Gigi Kwik Gronvall, PhD, Senior Associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and corresponding author of the study. “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.”

    To expand pharmacists’ role in combatting the opioid epidemic, state-specific standing orders could be revised to permit pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription from a physician or nurse practitioner, the report found. Currently, only 23 states allow naloxone to be purchased at a pharmacy without a prescription.

    “In addition, burdensome liability, payment, and legality issues in some states continue to limit a pharmacy’s role in opioid abuse intervention and education. Reform could contribute tremendously to the broader campaign to reduce opioid-related deaths, which accounted for 63 percent of all lethal U.S. drug overdoses in 2015,” Jaeger said.

    In addition to providing naloxone, pharmacists can collaborate with public health entities to make a difference in reducing the number of new opioid addictions as well as facilitate addiction treatment and other care, according to the report “This would build on the many ongoing ways in which pharmacists contribute to the solution to this issue,” Jaeger said.

    Related article: Fighting Opioid Misuse: The Numbers

    State regulatory authorities could implement innovative statewide protocols to expand pharmacists’ ability to provide patient testing and care, a move that would support work to address the spread of antibiotic resistance, according to the report.

    “The report notes that pharmacists can play an important role in providing patient education, performing tests to identify infections, and helping patients manage symptoms if they have a viral infection, for which antibiotics are not appropriate,” Jaeger said.

    The report also recommends that more inclusive protocols could extend to pharmacists’ vaccination services, which would be an important resource in a flu pandemic or bioterror attack. “Regulators could also collaborate across state lines to establish standardized protocols for integrating pharmacies into health emergency response to ensure displaced and underserved populations have access to basic care,” Jaeger said.

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.

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