3 ways pharmacists can combat Rx drug misuse


A new analysis found that Americans are misusing drugs–both illicit and prescribed drugs– at an alarming rate.

A new analysis found that Americans are misusing drugs–both illicit and prescribed drugs– at an alarming rate.

More than half (54%) of patients tested by Quest Diagnostics in 2015 showed evidence of drug misuse, a slight increase from the 53% misuse rate in 2014, according to new data from the national laboratory testing company.

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In addition to illicit drug use, one of the primary ways patients are misusing drugs is by combining medications that should not be used together. In 2015, 45% of patients misusing drugs had test results that showed evidence of one or more other drug(s) in addition to their prescribed drug(s), a sharp increase from 35% in both 2014 and 2013.

“The findings are significant because combinations of certain drugs, such as opioids and sedatives, can result in potentially dangerous interactions, including severe respiratory depression, coma and death,” Quest said in a statement.

Also, one third of the patients who tested positive for heroin were also taking benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium.

Misuse of the medications can also mean that patients were taking too much, too little or none of their prescribed medications.

John Beckner, RPh, senior director of strategic initiatives for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), said he was not surprised by the results since approximately 50% of Americans have at least one chronic condition. “The more medications [one is taking], the greater the likelihood of misuse,” he said.

Despite the quickly growing rate of medication misuse in the United States, pharmacists are in a good position to help combat drug misuse. Here are the top ways pharmacists can help prevent medication misuse and abuse:


  • Be available to answer patient questions on medication interactions, amount of the drug to take and other issues. Often, patients visit the pharmacy, select an over-the-counter drug and fail to ask questions. “Encourage patients to talk to pharmacists if they have any questions or need advice,” Beckner said.
  • Medication synchronization programs. More pharmacists are participating in med sync programs, in which pharmacists coordinate patients’ pick-up of their scripts on the same day each month. The programs also “give pharmacists a chance to check in with the patients,” Beckner said.  Many NCPA members participate in the organization’s free SimplifyMyMeds med sync program.
  • Participate in medication therapy management (MTM) programs, which involve the pharmacist in the patient’s healthcare team. “A lot of pharmacists are providing MTM reviews and they are able to identify problems such as gaps in care and duplicate therapy if they are seeing multiple providers,” Beckner said. As the U.S. healthcare system transitions to a system based more on quality of care in a number of states, Beckner is optimistic that pharmacists will be reimbursed more often for MTM services.
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