White House Drug Control Czar Visits Pharmacy School

The director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy recently paid a visit to South College School of Pharmacy in Tennessee to address prescription drug abuse and heroin use.

The director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy recently paid a visit to South College School of Pharmacy in Tennessee to address prescription drug abuse and heroin use.

“Anytime the White House comes to town, it is a big deal, and this was certainly no exception,” Brian L. Winbigler, PharmD, MBA, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the school, told Pharmacy Times.

He posited that Michael Botticelli’s visit to a pharmacy school was a testament to pharmacists’ work each day to fight prescription drug abuse and diversion.

The event also drew prominent members of the community like Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who spoke about a time when she saw naloxone used to save a life in a restaurant. Members of the local police departments were also in attendance.

One of the topics Botticelli discussed and supported was law enforcement’s use of naloxone. In Tennessee, naloxone can only be dispensed pursuant to a prescription or medical order, or under a collaborative practice agreement with a prescriber. However, those who dispense and administer naloxone are protected by the state’s Good Samaritan law, Dr. Winbigler explained.

“There was brief mention of some states allowing pharmacists to independently dispense naloxone, but no mention of a federal push to increase access to naloxone though pharmacists,” Dr. Winbigler said.

Patients in Tennessee may obtain naloxone if they are at risk of overdosing, and those who are in close contact with someone at risk for overdose can also gain access to the antidote.

Some other topics discussed during Botticelli’s visit revolved around increasing access to treatment programs, finding solutions to the lack of long-term treatment options, and improving training for prescribers on proper treatment of pain.

The event was invitation-only, but student leaders and faculty involved in substance abuse education and advocacy were able to attend. Student ambassadors and members of the Generation Rx committee helped seat attendees and were able to fill any empty seats.

Dr. Winbigler, who is the faculty adviser of the committee, said students and faculty involved in Generation Rx found the event particularly useful.

The committee first got involved in coordinating drug take-back events, but it has also provided after-school programming for elementary school students, as well as medication and substance abuse education in city schools. In addition, the committee has volunteered for the Blount Count Community Health Initiative’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Action Team.

“These combined efforts provide educational opportunities that address substance abuse prevention in our community as a way to mitigate and stop the growing opioid epidemic,” Dr. Winbigler said.

Another attendee at the drug forum was pharmacy student Emily Jolly, who described Botticelli’s speech as encouraging.

“He really understands the value of connecting hardworking people with each other and with the necessary resources to make clean living and full recovery a reality,” she told Pharmacy Times.

Botticelli has been transparent about his own experiences with substance abuse. His bio on the White House website states that he has been in long-term recovery from a substance abuse disorder for more than 26 years.

“[H]is personal testimony adds credibility to his perspective on how to address the problem,” Jolly said. “His passion and dedication were very evident in his speech.”

One of the key takeaways from the event was that addiction is a disease and comprehensive support is required for a successful journey to recovery. Those on the panel also agreed that this issue does not have a simple answer; rather, it requires collaboration from many factions to find a solution.

“Botticelli did a wonderful job moderating the discussion and balancing the different perspectives into 1 comprehensive take-home message that there is more work to be done, but it is doable,” Jolly said.

Jolly also got a chance to speak with Botticelli, whom she described as down-to-earth.

“It was refreshing and inspiring to meet someone so in tune with the reality of this issue and so willing to collaborate with all involved parties in order to create positive change,” she said.

Pharmacists are on the front lines of the fight against prescription drug abuse, Jolly argued. With both high levels of trust and close contact with patients, pharmacists are in a good position to reach patients and educate them on these issues.

In addition to removing potential stigmas related to addiction, pharmacists can also connect patients with community partners and other resources, as well as educate them on both pharmacological and non-pharmacological options.

“This is a very real issue that impacts all of us, and until we break the silence and eradicate the stigma, we will not be able to truly address the problem,” Jolly said. “…With all the changes that are currently going on in the health care field and in the world of recovery work, pharmacists have the chance to step up and be a catalyst for positive change through education, encouragement, and engagement within the community.”