Small Doses: November News

November 21, 2018

A new campaign that has the support of several pharmacy organizations will educate consumers about the value of pharmacists.
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), which represents the 143 accredited schools of pharmacy, recently launched the Pharmacists for Healthier Lives public awareness campaign.

“This is a critical time for healthcare in the United States. People are concerned about access, coverage, and medication management. Pharmacists play a vital role on the healthcare team, and yet most people are not aware of all they do to promote healthier, better lives. We need to change this,” Maureen Thielemans, AACP’s director of communications, tells Drug Topics.
Most people are familiar with their local community pharmacist, but are unaware that many pharmacists hold doctorates and are important members of a patient’s healthcare team, Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh, executive vice president and CEO of AACP, says in a statement. “They work in a variety of settings such as hospitals and clinics, and make tremendous contributions in the advancement of medicine.”

ASHP, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, the Georgia Pharmacy Association, and PrescribeWellness, are partnering with AACP.
While groups like NCPA and APhA are not yet involved, “as the campaign builds, we anticipate that other pharmacy and related organizations will join the coalition,” says Thielemans. The campaign will last several years.

Partner organizations have access to an online toolkit of key messages and branding resources to use in personal and professional communications. The general public can also engage with Pharmacists for Healthier Lives on its Facebook page and through the campaign’s website. AACP is encouraging the use of the hashtag, #Indispensable to promote the campaign on social media.

Pharmacists for Healthier Lives will also be supported with earned media outreach nationally and in key markets. “Next year, we anticipate exploring additional media outlets to include online, transit, print, and broadcast,” Thielemans says.

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A new partnership between Walgreens and Kroger could mean Kroger will eventually sell its pharmacy business to Walgreens, according to an analyst.

The two massive retail chains recently announced that customers in 13 initial stores in northern Kentucky can order Kroger grocery items online and pick up orders at participating Walgreens locations. Plus, Kroger’s Our Brands grocery items will be available at participating Walgreens locations. “The diversified shopping assortment will complement Walgreens products and services across health and wellness, pharmacy and beauty,” according to the companies.

Edward Kelly, retail analyst for Wells Fargo, believes the partnership will have various effects. “Opportunity for future collaboration could include the cross-selling of each company’s leading own brands, sourcing agreements, supply chain efficiency, proprietary preferred/restrictive pharmacy networks, or possibly even the sale of [Kroger’s] pharmacy business to [Walgreens],” Kelly says in a research note he provided to Drug Topics. “We recommend investors pay careful attention to the evolution of this partnership and other potential avenues of value creation.”

Kelly believes an in-store pharmacy arrangement, similar to Target and CVS Pharmacy’s partnership, is likely for Walgreens and Kroger. “Pharmacy is particularly tough for anyone other than the key scale players as preferred/limited networks are becoming more prevalent, the generic cycle has slowed, reimbursement rates are getting squeezed, and more complex specialty pharmacy is the growth driver,” Kelly wrote. “The front-end of the drugstore is also challenged given its lack of differentiation and poor value proposition. Now that we know [Kroger] and [Walgreens] have been talking, it’s obvious to us that future collaboration is possible.”

Jim Cohn, a spokesperson for Walgreens, however, tells Drug Topics that the current partnership has “no impact to pharmacy,” In addition, a partnership such as Target and CVS’ arrangement “is not a part of the pilot project, and our plans at this time are … to continue to listen to customer feedback in the coming months, while also gathering learning and insights to help determine any future steps.”

This new concept is an opportunity to test and learn, as the companies determine how to best work together to further elevate their customer offering, Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, said in a joint statement from the companies. “We continue to evolve our offerings to meet the changing needs of our customers and provide a more differentiated shopping experience.”

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Opioid abuse prevention legislation, signed into law by President Donald Trump, is being praised by pharmacist organizations.

Both NCPA and NACDS say they are pleased with the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (HR 6) by the House of Representatives and its companion Senate bill that was also passed. The legislation was signed into law on October 24.

Key provisions of the new law include:

Requires electronic prescribing for Schedule II through V controlled substances prescriptions covered under Medicare Part D starting January 1, 2021. In addition, the use of electronic prior authorization for covered Part D drugs will be required starting January 1, 2021, Ronna Hauser, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy policy and regulatory affairs at NCPA, tells Drug Topics.

“These requirements may change some pharmacy work flow aspects,” Hauser says. In addition, pharmacists may see Medicare Part D lock-in programs grow, as lock-in provisions for Medicare patients that are at-risk for opioid abuse will be required by 2022, and will be an option for plans starting January 1, 2019, according to Hauser.

The Medicare Part D provision “maintained provisions to exempt long-term care patients in nursing facilities and to ensure that patients’ choice of pharmacy is respected,” NCPA says in a statement.

Provides federal grants to states to assist drug disposal authorized collectors with the cost to purchase, install, and maintain drug take-back kiosks; the cost to dispose of collected unwanted prescription drugs; and the cost to train staff in operating the kiosks with the goal of improving take-back programs and participation in the states, NACDS says in a statement.

Enhances eligibility for the Medicare Part D Medication Therapy Management program to include at-risk beneficiaries.

Requires federal agencies to develop and distribute materials to train pharmacists on the circumstances in which they are allowed by law to decline to fill a prescription for a controlled substance, NCPA says. These circumstances may include the suspicion of fraud, forgery, or other forms of modification.

“Pharmacists will soon have access to HHS materials/training that can be a resource to determine when to decline to fill a controlled substance prescription,” Hauser says.

Strengthens prescription drug monitoring programs. The legislation takes “important technical steps to facilitate a collaborative and interconnected system that provides meaningful prescribing information to healthcare providers that can help prevent fraud, waste, and abuse,” NACDS says.

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Social media sites often lead consumers to websites that sell prescription drugs illegally, according to a new report.

During a recent four-week study, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) performed keyword searches on multiple social media sites and easily found posts leading to websites selling commonly counterfeited and/or abused medications. Keywords and terms used included “Viagra,” “ciprofloxacin” (Cipro), and “Xanax for sale online.”

On Pinterest, for example, NABP found 66 posts promoting sale of medications; 38% provided links to websites selling prescription medicines illegally. Similar keyword searches on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and eBay garnered similar results.

Characteristics of these sites include selling products not FDA approved, not requiring a prescription, and selling controlled substances.

“This review of social media sites was a subset of NABP’s ongoing study of online drug sellers, which has found that 95% of websites selling prescription drugs online are doing so illegally,” says NABP in a statement.

Twitter and Snapchat require that advertisers of pharmacies and pharmacy products be verified by NABP. Pinterest executives say they are taking steps to further reduce the number of illicit “pins” that slip through their filters, according to NABP.

“As Americans’ reliance on social media platforms for news and information has grown in recent years, it is expected that the prevalence of rogue online pharmacies in these spaces will also increase. The goal is for social media companies to take steps and use available resources to screen and monitor their platforms for harmful content linking to illegally operating websites,” NABP says.

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