How Pharmacists Can Change America’s Perceptions of Opioids

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Our recent survey, entitled “Opioids in America: Consumer Views and Use,” revealed some very interesting and alarming insights. Almost 70 percent of Americans believe they are less likely than others to become addicted to opioids, and nearly half of Americans would take opioid medications to treat minor conditions such as headaches, hangovers, and even boredom! Review the survey results here or read below to see what our own Farah Madhat, PharmD and Senior Vice President of Pharmacy, had to say regarding Americans’ opioid views and the role of the community pharmacist in preventing misuse.

Why have we seen a sharp increase in the number of Americans addicted to opioids?

It starts with perception. Patients often enter a doctor’s office believing they could never be a candidate for opioid addiction. Combine that with a false sense of security tied to the belief that as long a doctor prescribed the medication, and it is taken properly, everything will be okay. And now, you have a recipe for a sudden and unexpected opioid dependency. The perceived safety net that the system will step in to stop or fix a problem is unfortunately unrealistic.

Is there a solution to this false sense of security?

Education is always a great place to start. Both opioid users and their loved ones need to understand the risks, potential pitfalls and common misconceptions associated with taking prescription opioids. It sounds cliche, but knowing is half the battle, and as evidenced by the survey, far too many people do not know what to look out for.  

Can accidental overdoses be better prevented?

Yes. While we are accustomed to the idea of people carrying EpiPen’s as a proactive safety measure, we need to remove the stigma associated with opioid overdoses and treat the Naloxone pen in the same way. Accidental overdoses happen. Opioid users and their loved ones need Naloxone education so they can be prepared to respond in the event of an overdose.

What is the role of the pharmacist in preventing opioid misuse and abuse?

The pharmacist is the best care provider to help patients understand how all of their medications work together. From helping scope out their pain levels to collaborating with the patient’s physician to ensure that they are on the right treatment plan – one that may or may not include opioids – or even replacing opioids with an equally effective over-the-counter medication, there are many ways pharmacists can get involved and be a part of the solution.

Can you spot an opioid user?

There is no prototype or profile for an opioid user. This view is reinforced by the survey – opioid abuse affects all of us regardless of age, demographics, ethnicity, education or socioeconomic status. Opioid abuse is a community-wide issue and an equal opportunity addiction, which means anyone and everyone is a candidate to be counseled and educated on its severity.

How should pharmacists approach someone who needs opioid counseling?

It’s all in the approach. After collaborating with the other care providers to get all the necessary information to best assess the situation, pharmacists must approach the patient without judgment and with compassion and understanding. Never assume negative intentions. Those addicted to opioids are often not drug seekers or people who have chosen their addiction; their addiction chose them. Casting judgment is not only unfair, but it is also highly counterproductive and will likely cause them to retreat and reject your help. Many fell into their addiction accidentally, and don’t even realize they are abusing opioids. Always remember, they are victims.

If you are interested in joining us in the fight against opioid abuse, click here and check out our PharmacyUnited initiative. We are determined to make a difference and we need all the help we can get!

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