WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — COVID-19 has overshadowed an existing health problem that’s only worsened during the pandemic. The American Medical Association reports opioid abuse has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic.
The pandemic has undermined progress Pennsylvania and the U.S. have made to curb the opioid crisis. Pharmacists like those at Harrold’s Pharmacy are providing front line defense to turn the tide.
Filling prescriptions for patients is an obvious part of the job for pharmacists. But in recent years, that job has become more complex.
“Pharmacy, it’s kind of a gatekeeping role and they play a key role,” said Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction specialist.
That gatekeeping which nationally-recognized addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky discussed, centers on preventing doctors from overprescribing powerful painkillers and patients from “doctor shopping” to get more of that medication than they should. A lack of gatekeeping can have tragic consequences.
“Opiate addiction and substance use disorders are progressive illnesses that frequently end in death,” Dr. Pinsky said.
One of the safeguards Harrold’s Pharmacy owner Bruce Lefkowitz uses is an electronic database called a prescription drug monitoring program.
“We’re able to check a person’s history on medication so we know what opioids they’ve received,” Lefkowitz said.
He also says many narcotic prescriptions are electronically received which helps improve his pharmacy’s monitoring system.
“We’re more able to see what is being prescribed. We’re able to check a person’s history and then go from there and alert the doctor if there is a problem.”
The job experience Lefkowitz passes onto pharmacy interns includes the importance of medication therapy management — that face-to-face interaction between pharmacist and patient.
“Discussing their medications and educating them on the correct use of those medications, I think we could see numbers drastically decrease on misuse,” said Hunnter Maxwell, a P3 Pharm. D. student, at Wilkes University.
Lefkowitz says his pharmacy’s drug disposal container gets used several times a day. He and his staff consider it another key to help reverse the growing trend of the opioid crisis during the COVID crisis.
“Hopefully once we control the pandemic as we are right now, we can kind of combat that issue and help those people that need it,” Maxwell said.
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