Pharmacy Tech Brings U.S. Guidelines Overseas


Air Force SSgt Mary Johnson was named the 2017 PTCB CPhT of the Year for her work.

As a certified pharmacy technician in the U.S. Air Force at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base in Germany, SSgt Mary Johnson faces challenges that her stateside counterparts may never encounter, particularly in dealing with differences in international prescription practices and language barriers.

But like other CPhTs and health-care providers back in the states, Johnson was also concerned with the growing opioid epidemic and wanted to make a difference. After researching state prescribing standards and taking nearly 6

SSgt. Mary Johnson, CPhTmonths to review the opioid national death statistics from the past 10 years, Johnson developed standardized opioid prescription guidelines for U.S. Air Force pharmacies in Europe. Her initiative is bringing new guidelines to European providers that are consistent with opioid prescribing limitations being implemented stateside, such as stricter dosing and limited day supplies.

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The dosing standard has been in effect at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base since June 2017 and is under military review for possible expansion.

For her work in launching the standardized opioid prescription guidelines at Air Force pharmacies in Europe, as well as in creating a template to standardize prescription requirements with the 55 international providers serving her military facility, Johnson was named 2017 Certified Pharmacy Technician of the Year by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.   

“SSgt Johnson is an advocate for rigorous technician certification by demonstrating the high level of responsibility of CPhTs in leadership roles. Our honoree’s work is having a major impact on patients. Her dedication to patients is an inspiring example for pharmacy technicians,” said PTCB Executive Director and CEO Everett B. McAllister, RPh, MPA, who presented Johnson with the award at a reception during the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting in Orlando, FL.

Johnson has been in the Air Force as a pharmacy technician since January 2009 and a CPhT for the past three years. She has been stationed at Geilenkirchen, which is located in western Germany near the border with the Netherlands, since August 2014 and is the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Pharmacy Services.

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She pushed for standardized opioid prescribing guidelines to take a proactive approach to safer dosing practices.

“Our pharmacy’s nine health-care providers have embraced the initiative. I hope standardized opioid dosing will be adopted across Europe soon to combat the growing epidemic,” Johnson said in an email to Drug Topics.

Johnson is also working to provide a standardized system of prescription requirements after facing the challenge of filling prescriptions from providers in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.


From her experience with international prescriptions, “it was evident that there were clear distinctions between prescription standards and prescribing practices in the United States in comparison to European prescriptions/prescribing,” she said. The base operates under U.S. federal prescription guidelines and international providers must be educated on the requirements of military beneficiaries so that the pharmacy could fill and verify prescriptions.

“We also have the challenge of dealing with providers speaking and writing in several languages such as Dutch and German,” Johnson said. She worked with medical translators at her clinic and developed a template that outlined the U.S. prescription requirements in several languages.

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“It decreased delays and missing prescription information necessary for our pharmacy to successfully verify the hundreds of international prescriptions we encounter annually,” Johnson said. “This also decreased out-of-pocket expenses for our patients and enhanced our partnership with our international providers.”

She also established 24-hour care for dental emergencies and a protocol for after-hours dispensing, decreasing the referrals for emergencies and saving $20,000 in the first four months.

“While overseas, it is important to limit the amount of off-base referrals and establish after-hours care because of the language barriers and the concern of medication interactions,” she said.  

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