Legislation Puts Pharmacists on Front Line of Opioid Abuse Combat

Several pieces of legislation heading to the White House highlight pharmacists as critical players in preventing and identifying opioid misuse and abuse.

Several pieces of legislation heading to the White House highlight pharmacists as critical players in preventing and identifying opioid misuse and abuse.

The role of the pharmacist in curbing opioid addiction was included in more than a dozen bills recently passed by the US House of Representatives dealing with drug misuse and abuse.

One particular piece of legislation called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (H.R. 953) would provide funding for expanded prescription drug monitoring, as well as greater quantities of naloxone and related training for police forces and emergency personnel nationwide. CARA would also provide up to $80 million in local funding to support community-based education, prevention, treatment, and recovery programs, including training for pharmacists.

Other federal initiatives of interest to pharmacists include:

· Requiring the FDA to collaborate with an advisory committee before approving opioids without an abuse-deterrent formulation (H.R. 4976).

· Convening a task force of federal agencies and stakeholders (including pharmacists) to create “best practices” for acute and chronic pain treatments (H.R. 4641).

· Allowing physicians to prescribe buprenorphine for twice as many opioid-addicted patients as they do now

· Requiring the US Government Accountability Office to submit reports on certain opioid issues to help guide future policy decisions (H.R. 4982).

“Pharmacists are an important, but often an underutilized, resource in the fight against prescription drug abuse,” said Jenna Ventresca, JD, associate director of health policy for the American Pharmacists Association, in a press release following the House’s passage of the legislation package. “Pharmacists work closely with patients to provide education about pain medications, improve pain management, and monitor for signs of abuse, misuse, and overdose.”

Pharmacists also have unique clinical knowledge and an obligation to ensure that all possible efforts are made to provide patients and families with lifesaving resources.

On an individual level, there are a number of things pharmacists can do to combat the opioid abuse crisis, such as using a prescription drug monitoring program and making sure patients have realistic expectations for pain control.

“Although there isn’t just one piece of legislation that will completely solve this crisis, this week, the House advanced many critical bills that will help in the fight to combat the rising drug epidemic,” stated US Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a co-sponsor of H.R. 953.

A joint conference committee is set to convene to reconcile the minor differences that exist between H.R. 953 and its Senate-approved version (S. 524) before CARA heads to the White House.

Approximately 494.8 million controlled substance prescriptions were dispensed in 2014, and the CDC estimates that 46 individuals experience prescription opioid overdoses each day in the United States.