Opioid crisis discussions: Pharmacists are at the table

If you’ve ever heard me speak, then you know I am very passionate about the need for pharmacists to show up, get in the game, and be on the health care team. Yesterday I had the opportunity to practice what I preach. I had a seat at the table as a participant in a think-tank session with a handpicked group of health care stakeholders to discuss the changing culture of prescribing opioids.

The working group, hosted by POLITICO (an inside-the-Beltway, politically oriented news service), examined the U.S. opioid crisis in great detail. Discussions among regulators, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, CDC representatives, numerous provider groups, and several pharmacists centered on a number of topics, including the roles of health care providers and government; how to address the amount, duration, and intensity of opioid prescription; and the impact this will have on insurer reimbursements.

As the most accessible health care providers, pharmacists are on the front lines of pain management and patient care. With around 22 stakeholders in the room, 6 of them pharmacists, this was certainly an opportunity for pharmacists to get in the game.

Our key points were that pharmacists are an accessible resource, cannot meet our potential without coverage for services, and truly need to be included on the team. When the “dog catches the car,” and pharmacists identify patients with substance use disorders, we need options beyond, “Sorry—we don’t have it!” There WILL be a cost to the system, either in mental health resources or in the criminal justice system. Ignoring that just leads to higher costs later.

Although the gathering was a step in the right direction, there is much work to do and many opportunities for pharmacists to get involved to advance patient care, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, help legitimate patients reduce the risk of crossing the line to substance use disorders, and help those with identified substance use disorders.

This opioid crisis is clearly on the minds of state and federal policymakers. In fact, yesterday FDA announced enhanced warnings for immediate-release opioid pain medications related to risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, and death. For more details, see our pharmacist.com article.

For more information on opioid use, misuse, and abuse, check out the Twlug resource center at www.pharmacist.com/opioid-use-abuse-and-misuse-resource-center.