Law enforcement agencies on every level have been beefing up their response to the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
Unfortunately, because of budgetary restrictions, this effort often involves shifting resources away from the fight against street drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.
The prescription medications that have the potential for abuse include painkillers in particular but also depressants, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants.
Because of the scope of the problem, help in fighting the abuse is badly needed from any source. One profession that is uniquely situated to address the problem is pharmacist. These often overlooked professionals have regular contact with users, abusers and even dealers who acquire prescription drugs for resale.
What can they do to help? They can:
- Make sure the prescriber is fully authorized to prescribe controlled substances. This can be done by visiting the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website or through information vendors.
- Require the customer to show valid photo identification.
- Call the prescriber to confirm the validity of the prescription.
- Fill pain medication prescriptions only for patients the pharmacist knows or that have an established history of filling prescriptions at the pharmacy.
- Not filling prescriptions for patients who do not live close to the prescriber or the pharmacy.
- Not filling prescriptions for high dosages or large quantities of pain medications.
- Not filling prescriptions for patients also taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
- Not filling prescriptions unless third-party insurance is being billed.
- Consulting the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for a patient’s prescription history.
The above steps address part of the problem. Another aspect of prescription drug abuse is the availability of pills from friends and family and unsecured medicine cabinets.
This can be fought through a take-back program, where people can drop off unused, expired or unwanted controlled substances. The DEA sponsors national take-back programs that remove millions of pills from the supply chain.
Finally, pharmacists can do their part on an ongoing basis by staying up to date with the changing legal environment and always keeping an eye open for potential weak areas in their distribution and dispensing systems.