Congressional focus on opioids is an opportunity for pharmacists and their patients

Provider status recognition would allow pharmacists to more fully assist in opioids efforts

Opioids remain a policy priority for the U.S. Congress, with a package of bills known as “CARA 2.0” under consideration and relevant committees holding hearings on the issue. As these conversations evolve, pharmacists are expressing current and potential contributions to these efforts. Pharmacists’ role in mitigating the opioid epidemic will be strengthened with the passage of the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (S. 109/H.R. 592). Passage would create mechanisms for pharmacists who provide services to medically underserved patients to be reimbursed under Medicare Part B.

“To make a meaningful impact on the opioid crisis, Congress must include pharmacists as members of the team. Passage of the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act is the best way to do that,” said APhA CEO Tom Menighan.

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a third hearing on opioids after returning from recess. The Patient Access to Pharmacists' Care Coalition (PAPCC) urges the committee to include H.R. 592 in its opioid discussions. The coalition promotes pharmacists as accessible health care providers and medication experts who, if empowered can play a unique role in helping patients, families, and communities suffering from the misuse and abuse of opioids.

“Pharmacists can optimize and manage the impact of medications, review medications to help prevent overprescribing, coordinate care, tailor care plans to patient needs, identify patients at high risk of opioid overuse, and provide recommendations for nonopioid pain management alternatives,” Menighan added.

Almost 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy. With recognition of pharmacists’ services in Medicare Part B, pharmacists’ expertise could be leveraged to provide early intervention and refer patients to additional treatment when necessary.

“Congress should give significant consideration to policies and initiatives that enhance health care capacity and strengthen community partnerships. This can be accomplished by recognizing the value pharmacists offer as a provider in team-based care and fully utilizing them in fighting the opioid crisis,” Menighan said. “This recognition is especially important in underserved communities specifically addressed in this legislation.”