APhA, pharmacy groups attend opioid law signing at White House

New law opens treatment pathways but doesn’t take full advantage of pharmacists’ expertise

President Trump invited lawmakers, activists, pharmacy chains, pharmacist groups, and other stakeholders to White House on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, for the signing of the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. APhA CEO Tom Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FAPhA, was among the guests at the event, where the administration commemorated its actions since declaring rising rates of opioid misuse, abuse, and overdose a public health emergency. Though the inclusion of APhA and other pharmacy groups signals recognition of the role pharmacists play in treating chronic pain and other care issues related to opioids, the law itself missed the opportunity to fully utilize them in national efforts.

“Pharmacists are and always have been frontline in the opioid crisis and will continue to be a part of the many solutions to the problem,” Menighan said. “Pharmacists work actively with patients and communities on a daily basis, and APhA’s priority is to make sure that policymakers and fellow health care providers know what pharmacists can do to make meaningful progress in the fight against opioids.”

Aspects of the new law relating to Medicare, Medicaid, the supply chain, education and evidence-based resources, and the development of FDA activities could have an impact on pharmacists and their patients. These provisions show that Congress and federal agencies recognize the crucial role pharmacists play in combating the opioid epidemic. But, in a disappointment for the pharmacy community, the law signed today does not address Medicare Part B coverage of pharmacists’ opioid-related services.

Pharmacists screen and assess patients’ risk for misuse and abuse, make recommendations for pain management, provide interventions and care coordination, and furnish naloxone where authorized. But the lack of a structure to reimburse pharmacists for these services is a major barrier to care.

“It just makes sense—if patients had better access to the services pharmacists can provide, medications can be better optimized, and risks of abuse or misuse minimized,” Menighan added.

The estimated cost of expanding patient access to pharmacists’ services has been a lingering concern for Members of Congress, and during the development of this year’s opioid legislative package, congressional leadership expressed its intention to minimize the law’s impact on the federal deficit.