NCPA Offers Justice Department Suggestions on Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse While Protecting Patients



Alexandria, Va. May 16, 2014 - Responding to recent comments by Attorney General Eric Holder that "opiate addiction is an urgent—and growing—public health crisis," the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) wrote to the Attorney General to offer recommendations on effectively combating the scourge of prescription drug abuse without forcing patients with legitimate medical issues to endure chronic pain.

"Community pharmacists are on the front lines of health care and are often the last line of defense and a key asset in the prevention of prescription drug abuse," NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA wrote in a letter to Attorney General Holder, head of the Department of Justice (DOJ). "Our members have seen firsthand the destruction that drug abuse can do to a community, including the proliferation of violent pharmacy crimes, and therefore are committed to eradicating prescription drug abuse."

NCPA's letter offered suggestions, including the following, to strike the right balance between preventing abuse and preserving patient access to narcotic painkillers:

  • More prescriber education—State medical licensing boards should consider making initial licensures or renewals contingent upon continuing education on pain management and prescriber registration with a state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).
  • Easier verification methods for pharmacy staff to confirm prescriber DEA registration—Currently it can be unclear to pharmacy personnel at the time of processing a prescription whether a lapsed prescriber registration is still valid, or in fact is expired and invalid.
  • Working group or commission on prescription drug abuseCongressional legislation has been proposed to establish such a body to bring together law enforcement, health care providers, and community advocates.
  • Develop prescription drug monitoring programs—Interoperable, robust electronic databases could identify improper prescribing behavior, dispensing trends and individuals at high-risk of abuse.
  • Practical disposal options for controlled substances—Many community pharmacies voluntary dispose their patients' unused or expired prescription drugs, but cannot lawfully accept controlled substances.

NCPA also reminded Holder of the widespread problems that community pharmacies currently face when trying to serve patients with legitimate prescriptions and a medical necessity for controlled substances. While supporting practices of the DOJ's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to crack down on illegitimate distribution practices, NCPA took issue with DEA's "sometimes unclear communications to supply chain entities, potentially leading to severe consequences for community pharmacies and their patients, who have become collateral damage in the war on drugs."

A recent survey of 1,000-plus community pharmacists found that some of society's most vulnerable patients, including seniors and those battling cancer, face a significant struggle to obtain medications prescribed to alleviate crippling pain. Community pharmacists repeatedly complained of having their supplies or shipments of controlled substances abruptly shut off or delayed by their wholesalers, forcing patients to go to other pharmacies in hopes of obtaining their medication. On average, 55 patients-per-pharmacy were impacted by such shipment delays.

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