Pharmacists fight against the opioid epidemic

Over the past decade the opioid epidemic evolved rapidly.

     Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with the rising number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths alarming drug manufacturers, health care providers, lawmakers and patients alike.

What is an opioid?

Opioids are a class of prescription drugs that are used for the management of pain and include fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. They prevent pain signalling in the body by interacting with receptors in the central nervous system.  They are highly regulated due to an increased risk of abuse and dependence, and should be used sparingly when applicable.  
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As medication experts, pharmacists are concerned about addressing substance use disorders while also helping patients who have legitimate pain needs control their pain.
Because of their accessibility and expertise, pharmacists are in many ways on the front lines of the opioid abuse epidemic and play an essential role in communicating concerns and sharing knowledge with other members of the health care team. A case study in 2016 demonstrated that healthcare teams that included a pharmacist showed a decreased in average morphine-milligram equivalents (MME).  
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Pharmacists can also play a crucial role in naloxone counseling.  Naloxone is an opioid antagonists that acutely reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.  Pharmacists have unique face-to-face patient interaction that can help dispel the myths surrounding naloxone use, and educate patients and caregivers on administration of this life-saving drug. This medication is now available over-the-counter across the country.  
One of the biggest challenges for pharmacists is helping patients and clinicians determine if or how long to continue safe use of opioids. Pharmacists will need to collaborate with regulators, other health professionals, patients, families, caregivers, and industry leaders to deal with these complex problems. 
This complicated, multi-faceted public health crisis must be addressed through a comprehensive and collaborative approach.

Each participant in the pharmaceutical supply chain can play an important role, including:

  • Drug manufacturers that design, develop and promote the medication
  • Doctors who prescribe the medication
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has regulatory oversight for all DEA-registrants (doctors, distributors, pharmacists) and sets yearly quotas for the volume of opioids that can be manufactured.
  • Pharmacists who dispense the medication
  • State medical and pharmacy boards that oversee the doctors and pharmacies in their jurisdiction
  • Private and public health insurance groups that determine what they will pay for
  • Distributors that deliver medications ordered by pharmacists to fill prescriptions written by doctors


We are committed to engaging with all who share our dedication to acting with urgency to address this epidemic and working together to end this national crisis.