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Pharmacists Helping Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Missouri

Published on 08 August 2019

In conjunction with the passing of Missouri legislation that would authorize pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription under a statewide standing order, the Missouri Opioid State Targeted Response Grant (Opioid STR) was implemented in May 2017. The grant initiative was developed with the goal of expanding access to integrated prevention, treatment and recovery support services for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) throughout the state. Two faculty from St. Louis College of Pharmacy were assigned to one of the grant objectives to increase access to naloxone in community pharmacies.

Nicole Gattas, Pharm.D., FAPhA, BCPS, associate professor of pharmacy practice and assistant director of community and ambulatory care, experiential education at the College, and Amy Tiemeier, Pharm.D., BCPS, director of community partnerships, associate director of experiential education, and associate professor of pharmacy practice at the College, along with Kelly Gable, Pharm.D., BCPP, associate professor in the department of pharmacy practice and coordinator of global partnerships at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy, made up the pharmacy team tasked with achieving this objective.

"Naloxone is a life-saving medication for patients who overdose on opioid medications," Gattas said. "Having naloxone readily available is important for harm reduction in the general population. If pharmacies provide easy access to naloxone, there is decreased death from opioid overdose."

Gattas, Tiemeier and Gable conducted trainings across the state of Missouri over the course of two years, educating nearly 1,180 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians on the use and benefits of naloxone and the stigmas surrounding opioid misuse and abuse and naloxone dispensing. The team also educated pharmacists on how to best inform patients about naloxone and the right questions to ask patients in need of the medication.

After concluding their portion of the grant in spring 2019, the team had delivered 29 presentations, developed brochures, newsletters and posters for pharmacists and patients, and forged partnerships with major pharmacy chains, including St. Louis-area Walgreens, expanding access to naloxone, while emphasizing the use of appropriate clinical language and compassion when interacting with patients. Resources are still available to pharmacists at missouriopioidstr.org/.

The team conducted a survey in late 2017 that showed nearly 40% of pharmacies in Missouri had naloxone in stock. A year later, following the team’s trainings and other educational efforts, more than 80% of pharmacies statewide carried naloxone.

"Opioids can be really helpful, but they have proven to be so harmful for so many people," Tiemeier said. "As pharmacists, we have a duty to be working as best as we can to make sure they are being used properly and not misused. When opioids are being misused, we can’t help patients recover if they are dead. Every chance that we have to save a life, to get patients into recovery and help them have a productive life is valuable."

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