6 Ways Opioids Impact Your Pharmacy Career
With approximately 142 Americans dying every day from a drug overdose, and almost half of these related to prescription drugs, pharmacists have never been more aware of our serious national problem. Opioid addiction news dominates our media channels. Most pharmacists I know are very concerned about and aware of the issue, albeit frustrated and discouraged about what to do.
Those thinking about pharmacy as a career path may be wondering how, if at all, this very disturbing and alarming opioid abuse epidemic will impact their career as pharmacists. While the following is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive list, it highlights some of the most significant ways that this terrible trend could impact your career considerations.
- Robberies. While the numbers were down a little bit in 2016 vs. 2015, there were still an incredible 812 pharmacy robberies last year. I have personally known many pharmacists who have had the trauma of being robbed at gunpoint. It is a real danger and potential risk associated with a career in the retail pharmacy world. According to DEA Chicago Special Agent Dennis Wichern, quoted by APhA, “If you can’t get your painkiller anymore, you’re either going to move to heroin or in some cases you’re going to rob a pharmacy to get those drugs that’s harder to get from your medical provider.”
- Internal Diversion. Pharmacists working in any workplace involving narcotics have to be concerned about the possibility of diversion going on by co-workers or other employees. Last month there was news about a nurse from the Mayo Clinic who was arrested for stealing opiates that were prescribed for, but refused, by patients. Similarly a Florida pharmacist was arrested for stealing narcotics intended for cancer patients. In both situations the individuals were caught by co-workers who became concerned.
- Addiction. Access to opiates creates a risk factor that pharmacists, and all health care professionals need to be aware of. Addiction rates According to some reports, anywhere from 10 to 15% of health care employees will misuse drugs at some point during their career. I have known several pharmacists who have known the personal pain of getting caught up with an addiction problem. While there is always hope for those who want help, these situations do not always end up well.
- Management & Legislative concerns. Pharmacists, especially those working in community pharmacy settings, need to be aware of the rapidly changing and evolving laws related to opioid prescribing and dispensing. Failure to do so can jeopardize your career. Today’s pharmacists are becoming accustomed to carefully checking state Prescription Monitoring Program platforms for patients who may be using multiple physicians and pharmacies. States are developing new and stricter laws to help curb the problem. Massachusetts, for example, now requires certain literature be given to patients with all opioid prescriptions, requires patients be notified they can “partially fill” such prescriptions and has expanded their monitoring program to include gabapentin.
- Overdose Prevention Opportunities. I recently met with a team of Emergency Physicians about an initiative to provide naloxone to patients who were treated for an opioid use disorder. Across the nation states are expanding access to this life saving drug. This was an opportunity for them to join this encouraging trend. While naloxone can often be given to anyone from a pharmacy in a state that has provisions for such dispensing, the drug is not a cure for the epidemic itself. Nevertheless pharmacists are becoming involved in dispensing and training patients to use this drug in case a loved one or even a stranger should need it.
- Education, Compassion & Service. Finally, the problem we currently face with addiction in our nation provides pharmacists an opportunity to speak up and talk about the dangers opioids can present, as well as educating patients about alternatives. Pharmacists today can show compassion for addicted patients by getting involved in directing patients to recovery resources in their area. We may not be able to cure addiction, but we can serve our community by being a voice for hope and help.
Opioid addiction and substance abuse is a national crisis. Individuals thinking about a career in pharmacy should be aware of the ways that these drugs, while very useful when appropriately prescribed, may impact their careers. Concerns about prescription misuse are not likely to go away soon. But as pharmacists we don’t have to wait any longer to get involved and offer to help.