White House announces plan to curb prescription drug, heroin crisis

Pharmacist and stakeholder groups highlighted in plan

PHOTO CREDIT: PATTY JOHNSTON

President Barack Obama laid out a plan this week to tackle the growing heroin and prescription opioid pain addiction epidemic in the United States.

He traveled to Charleston, WV, and addressed a crowd during a community forum on the topic. West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, and officials say it’s due to limited job opportunities, a high injury rate among coal workers, and poor access to treatment programs.

In his remarks, Obama outlined steps to train more health care providers in appropriate opioid prescribing and facilitate better access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Obama also stressed the importance of access to naloxone, according to APhA member Patty Johnston, BSPharm, President of Colony Drug & Wellness Center in Beckley, WV, who attended the event.

“This is something that we as pharmacists should step to the front on with education, training and increasing access to naloxone,” said Johnston.

CDC has linked the rampant heroin addiction problem in the country to the rise in people who are addicted to prescription opioids. Individuals addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin, according to CDC.

Leading up to the announcement, the Obama administration gathered input from private and public stakeholders, including APhA and several other pharmacy organizations. APhA said it will educate pharmacists, student pharmacists, and stakeholders through a new resource center on opioid use, misuse, and abuse.

Community pharmacies, including CVS Health and Rite Aid, will ramp up naloxone training and availability. CVS will allow CVS/pharmacy to dispense naloxone, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, without requiring patients to present a prescription following a standing order from a physician or collaborative practice agreement in an additional 20 states in 2016, according to written material from the White House. CVS Health said it is also launching a new drug abuse prevention program where CVS pharmacists will present on the topic in high school health classes. Rite Aid will train 6,000 pharmacists on naloxone use over the next 12 months, and expand their naloxone dispensing program to additional states, according to the Obama administration.

More than 40 health care provider groups are part of the effort. They will help achieve the goal of training 540,000 providers in appropriate opioid prescribing over the next 2 years, and help double the number of physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment. Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication used in MAT for opioid treatment.

The number of health care providers registered with their state prescription drug monitoring programs in the next 2 years will also double, according to the Obama administration.

In addition, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy will enhance access to prescription drug monitoring program data to thousands more physicians and pharmacists in Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, and North Dakota in 2016.

But the Obama administration said it wants to focus efforts on public awareness as well, with messaging on opioid abuse, appropriate prescribing practices, and actions providers can take over the next 2 years. 

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