Pharmacist-Led Project Targets Opioid Education and Safety

Drug Topics Journal, Drug Topics January 2021, Volume 165, Issue 1

Tanvee Thakur, PhD, BPharm, recently completed a project focused on enhancing transparent opioid education.

Tanvee Thakur, PhD, BPharm, recently completed a project with the Community Pharmacy Foundation (CPF) focused on enhancing transparent opioid education.

Thakur is currently a scientist at RTI Health Solutions. At the time of the project, Thakur was pursuing her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy. During this time, Thakur recalled talking to pharmacists about the opioid crisis and the importance of patient education, but observed that very few providers were truly engaging with patients about the risks of opioids.

Through more discussion, Thakur realized that “both patients and doctors wanted pharmacists to educate patients about opioids, but pharmacists were sometimes unsure how to discuss this sensitive topic without sounding accusing,” she said. Thakur thought that a patient handout would help both pharmacists and patients discuss opioids.

Working with Betty Chewning, PhD, FAPhA, as a co-principal investigator, Thakur developed a handout for pharmacists to assist in counseling on opioid prescriptions. Pharmacists could use the handout during counseling to highlight important information, guide essential talking points, and distribute to the patient with a reminder to call with any questions. 

After using the handout during patient counseling, the pharmacist would fill out a survey to answer questions such as:

  • Do you feel more confident in counseling?
  • What is your comfort level?
  • Do patients ask more questions?

The research was done at 3 pharmacies (2 rural and 1 urban): Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and 2 Reedsburg Medical Center community pharmacies in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.

Thakur and Chewning analyzed 57 real-time surveys of pharmacists who used the opioid handouts. Pharmacists reported that using handouts in conjunction with counseling was the most helpful method, but the most important thing was just making an effort to talk about opioids. “It is up to the individual comfort of the pharmacist on which way to use the handout, but pharmacists felt more satisfied when they addressed opioid risks and safety, rather than avoiding the topic,” Thakur said.

“On the patient side, it was like a normal counseling session,” Thakur explained. The hardest part was finding pharmacists to participate, as many were too busy. Still, we had a few amazing pharmacists who participated and made sure the surveys were completed,” she said.

Although Thakur was not sure what to expect in terms of results, she noted that she was pleasantly surprised. Along the lines of adding more time, she mentioned how busy community pharmacists can easily incorporate opioid counseling. Pharmacists can access the handout from the CPF website. “Even though there is limited time to counsel, pharmacists can take 40-50 seconds and make a brief statement. We can show patients that we care about their safety by saying, ‘I care about you and your loved ones being safe. That’s why I’m telling you this medication is an opioid and has overdose and dependency risks.’

We can explain that opioids should only be used as prescribed, then disposed of safely to keep the patient and the patient’s family safe. Then remind the patient to read the handout at home and call if questions arise. This takes less than a minute and is a wholesome approach to patient education,” Thakur explained.

The CPF, led by Anne Marie (Sesti) Kondic, PharmD, executive director, is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing community pharmacy practice and patient care delivery through grant funding and resource sharing.

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