How pharmacists should be fighting the heroin epidemic

December 28, 2015

Once we as individuals in the healthcare profession finally begin to accept addiction as a disease and not a moral failing, the affected individuals will have a better chance at recovery and we will gain a better understanding of this epidemic.

Addiction is a brain disease. Once we as individuals in the healthcare profession finally begin to accept addiction as a disease and not a moral failing, the affected individuals will have a better chance at recovery and we will gain a better understanding of this epidemic.

Editor’s Choice: 2015’s Top Cities for pharmacists

Lauren Heroux-Camirand, pharmacistIf we see that patient standing before us, seeking their oxycodone 30mg. tab #240 to be filled 14 days early, as a “hopeless junkie,” and dispense the prescription anyway without discussion or questions, it is us as pharmacists failing to provide adequate care for those “hopeless junkies.”

I had the privilege of participating in the new HBO documentary, Heroin: Cape Cod, USA. I also attended the premiere with many of the affected individuals followed in the film.

I have seen many addicts and alcoholics over the years, and those young adults from the film were some of the most hurt and struggling, yet inspiring, courageous, and sensitive people I have seen.

They were not dirty, street-scum crackheads. They are someone’s child, parent, brother, or sister. This is not a skid-row disease, and that timeworn thinking has to change in order to help make an impact.

We must act on opportunities as they arise. When an opiate-naïve patient presents a prescription of a high-dose, long-term supply narcotic, we need to ask questions. Talk to our patients. Most importantly, we need to listen.

 

When we hear the patient say: “I don’t want to take this medication, but I need it,” we need to capture those moments, opening the door to a very important conversation.

Why do they feel they need it? Is there something we could be doing, saying, or offering that will help them possibly feel better, less pain, less anxiety, less fear without the use of potent, high doses of narcotics or anxiolytics?

Did they request medication, or has the physician with the loose pen once again fulfilled the 15-minute appointment by providing a quick solution? Do they really understand what they are putting in their body, how it affects them short or long-term?

Are they aware of the genetic link to addiction in their family, that using #20 tablets of Percocet post-dental surgery can possibly initiate a downward spiral of drug-seeking behavior to eventual heroin use? The notion that ‘it can never happen to me’ is a thing of the past.

Those “hopeless junkies” need hope. They need someone to offer a better way than the current way. They need to believe it will work and to believe in themselves.

As pharmacists, we can empower with knowledge, empathy, and Narcan. Even if someone uses drugs 45 minutes after revival with Narcan, at least they have another chance to make the decision to seek recovery.

 

Restricting repeated access because patients continue to overdose is comparable to opening the doors of Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous to only those in recovery. There are many alcoholics or addicts that attend a meeting under the influence, and drink or use on the ride home. But the life-saving program is still available to them.

Professional compassion, de-stigmatization, and listening. People helping people are where we will see an impact in this epidemic. Let it begin with us, before they get the narcotic.

See also: Colorado pharmacist's life becomes subject of TV pilot

Lauren Heroux-Camirand is a pharmacist at County Square Pharmacy in Attleboro, Mass. She was interviewed as part of the HBO documentaryHeroin: Cape Cod, USA.