Pharmacists Are Missing an Opportunity to Save Lives and Advance the Profession by Embracing Opioid Harm Reduction

J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). Nov-Dec 2019;59(6):779-782. doi: 10.1016/j.japh.2019.06.019. Epub 2019 Aug 8.


More than 70,000 Americans died as a result of a drug overdose in 2017, and a substantial majority of those deaths involved an opioid. Supply-reduction interventions, such as prescription monitoring programs, tamper-resistant formulations, and prescribing limits have failed to reverse rising rates of opioid-related morbidity and mortality. Instead, they may be contributing to this trend by forcing people with opioid use disorder to an increasingly potent illicit market with scant resources for sterile injection. Pharmacists are recognized by governmental authorities, public health experts, and other health professionals as key partners in opioid harm reduction. This is reflected by the proliferation of state laws supporting pharmacy-based access to naloxone, an opioid antagonist that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Expanded authority to distribute naloxone without an outside prescription, coupled with the provision of sterile syringes and evidence-based medications for opioid use disorder, represents a powerful opportunity for pharmacists to save lives while advancing the role of the profession. However, numerous studies have documented a lack of readiness among pharmacists to dispense naloxone and little willingness to provide sterile syringes. As a profession, it is imperative that we ensure all pharmacists receive adequate education regarding opioid harm reduction interventions and ongoing support to implement these interventions within their practices.