West Virginia pharmacist has a seat at the (White House) table

Last week during a community forum in Charleston, WV, President Barack Obama laid out a plan to tackle the growing problem of prescription opioid pain addiction and heroin abuse in the United States. APhA member Patricia “Patty” Johnston, BSPharm, owner of Colony Drug and Wellness Center and a pharmacist in West Virginia, was invited to the event to represent the profession of pharmacy in an audience filled with educators, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and others who have been affected by drug abuse.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Patty for years in West Virginia pharmacy. Pharmacists in West Virginia are no strangers to the problem of prescription drug and heroin abuse. The state has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. And most West Virginians, me included, have been personally touched through family or friends by the tragedy of drug addiction.

During the community discussion, Obama outlined steps to train more health care providers in appropriate opioid prescribing and facilitate better access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment.

“It was great to have a pharmacist at the table,” said Patty after the event. “Pharmacists can play a big role with access and education by making sure people get access to naloxone, and when they do, making sure that they know how to use it.”

This is yet another opportunity for pharmacists to get on the team and get in the game! We are natural leaders when it comes to medications. Pharmacists have a minimum of 6 to 8 years of education and most of that is devoted to medication education and training. Pharmacists are often the last point of contact with patients and they are the health professional most seen by patients. Pharmacists have more medication-related education and training than any other health professional.

APhA, along with several other pharmacy organizations and public and private stakeholders, provided input to the Obama administration. In addition, APhA is spearheading the education of pharmacists, student pharmacists, and stakeholders through a new resource center on opioid use, misuse, and abuse. If I had my way, any patient given more than a nominal supply of opioid medication would be enrolled with a pharmacist with a plan to end that use at the appropriate time.

I am pleased that pharmacy was at the “White House” table during last week’s event. I hope that a strong pharmacy presence will increase and strengthen collaboration among pharmacists and health care providers to help put a stop to this deadly epidemic.

Visit pharmacist.com to read more about Obama’s plan to reduce prescription opioid pain addiction and heroin abuse.