The Opioid Crisis and the Pharmacy

Each day, more than 90 Americans die from opioid-related overdoses1. In fact, it’s the single largest killer of Americans under the age of 502. Opioid abuse and overdose-related deaths are a public health crisis that transcends race, ethnicity, and social class, and shows no signs of slowing.

But what has caused this crisis to grow into what it is today? How did it spiral so out of control? Back in the 1990s, physicians were prescribing opioids at extremely high rates without determining if the patient truly needed such a strong pain medication. When the government cracked down on prescription practices, opioids became an elusive drug, and those already addicted turned to other means of getting their next pill.

It’s clear that the extent of the damage of the opioid crisis is overwhelming. Without a clear cut plan, our country has no hope of turning it around. Enter the community pharmacist.

Pharmacists are among the most accessible and trusted healthcare professionals, and their services can help combat the opioid crisis. As a reactive approach, many states now allow their pharmacies to prescribe Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal agent, without a prescription. The availability of a reversal agent has the potential to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

While a reactive approach will save many lives, a proactive approach may be able to make the biggest difference overall. Pharmacists can use their positions at the forefront of opioid dispensing to identify patients at a high risk for abuse faster and easier than other providers. If we can ensure that pharmacy schools are teaching their pharmacy students how to recognize and treat drug abuse, we may be able to get closer to the root of the crisis. With drug-treatment educated pharmacists graduating and entering the pharmacy sphere every year, real, systematic improvements could be just around the corner.


  1. National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2017, June). Opioid Crisis. Retrieved October 1, 2017, from Accessed 18 Oct. 2017.
  2. Paduda, Joe. (2017, June). Opioids are the Largest Killer of People Under 50. Retrieved October 1, 2017, from

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