The Role of Community Pharmacies in Expanding Medication Treatment for OUD
The U.S. has been experiencing a devastating opioid epidemic with enormous negative impacts on public health across the country. While efforts to reduce opioid prescribing have been successful, rates of opioid use disorder (OUD) continue to surge, with 300-400% increases among some populations.
Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), like methadone and buprenorphine, are effective strategies for treatment of OUD and reducing overdose risk. However, medication treatment rates continue to be low across the U.S., and the COVID-19 pandemic is making it even more difficult than usual for people to connect with care.
Given the challenges of getting and keeping people in treatment, expanding the role of community pharmacies may be one solution. Pharmacists have specialized training, high levels of consumer trust, and are often widely available in communities. Canadian, Australian, and European pharmacists have made important contributions to the treatment and care of those with OUD in the past decades, but U.S. pharmacists have continued to be blocked from prescribing medications for OUD and are only currently allowed to dispense methadone for pain.
Two NIDA Clinical Trials Network trials are investigating the use of pharmacies in this role:
- CTN-0093, Validation of a Community Pharmacy-Based Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Risk Screening Tool, is working in community pharmacies to validate a national prescription drug monitoring program-based metric that will allow pharmacists to triage and understand care needed by patients with prescription opioid-related risk, including OUD.
- CTN-0105, Integrating Pharmacy-Based Prevention and Treatment of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders: A Survey of Pharmacists and Stakeholders, is working to understand the current status, knowledge, and attitudes of pharmacists in the U.S. toward identification, brief intervention, referral, and MOUD provision.
U.S. policymakers, regulators, and practitioners must work to facilitate this advancement of community pharmacy-based MOUD care, through research, education, practice, and industry changes.
Conclusions: Advancing community pharmacy-based MOUD services could make a critical difference in addressing the opioid epidemic in the United States, helping to mitigate the fallout from COVID-19 on people seeking help with their opioid use, and getting individuals the life-saving care they need.
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