Pharmacist Awareness Month and Government Takes Steps to Devalue the Role of Pharmacists in Addiction Treatment Services

Kara O'Keefe, Pharmacist - March 6, 2019

March is Pharmacist Awareness Month I am frustrated. 

I am frustrated that our government and our health authorities do not value the vital role that pharmacists and pharmacies play in Mental Health and Addictions. I work in a community that, like many others in our country, battles with addiction to opioids. The need for opioid maintenance treatments such as Suboxone and methadone in our community is clear. Members of the community of Bell Island deal with the implications of opioid addiction such as hepatitis, endocarditis, overdose, depression, homelessness, food insecurity, and more, on a daily basis.

Pharmacists are excellently positioned to act as the primary administrators of opioid maintenance treatment. Pharmacists are experts in medication therapy. They are highly trained professionals who are experts in the proper dispensing of Suboxone and methadone, in evaluating if a patient is under the influence of a medication that may be harmful to administer these treatments with, in evaluating doses and drug interactions, in assessing our provincial electronic health record to ensure no diversion or interacting medicines may cause harm, in evaluating blood work and urine drug screens, and most importantly, in taking the time to develop a meaningful relationship with the person seeking treatment for their addiction in front of them. 

Our pharmacy asked for the government‘s support in providing this much-needed service to the community of Bell Island. We asked that the government provide us with a monthly stipend to pay for the extra pharmacist hours it will require to deliver this service. Without this help, our pharmacy would actually be providing this service at a net loss to our establishment. Given the frequent cuts in funding to our profession, pharmacies cannot hope to provide high quality patient care through services that put pharmacies into a deficit. Bell Island is a unique community in its isolation due to its ferry and given the fact that there are no registered pharmacists living in the community. The government currently pays somewhere between $7000-$10,000/month to provide transportation to St. John’s for patients who require Suboxone or methadone, as this service is not available in their community. Instead of taking a portion of these transportation funds to pay for a pharmacist in the community to provide this service, they have neglected to entertain the idea and will instead remove the pharmacist from this process completely. The government’s plan is now to provide this service from the hospital in the community. The Bell Island hospital already struggles with nursing staff issues and the need to work 24-hour shifts. Small hospitals do not have the dispensing technologies mastered in pharmacies, they do not have technologies which link dispensing to our electronic health record. They do not have pharmacists. While nurses are experts in patient care and have a unique and invaluable place in our healthcare system, they are not trained in providing opioid maintenance treatment in the way which pharmacists are and they are not experts in medication therapy. Nursing staff are already overworked and nurses in our province are currently asking for more support and staffing in their current roles. Placing this extra strain on a small hospital will be of no benefit to patients or healthcare workers. It will result in compromised care. The government wishes to remove the pharmacist from this equation entirely. This notion goes against the grain of a well-established and well-oiled machine - the paramount role of the pharmacist and pharmacy in providing opioid maintenance treatment. 

Why do we train pharmacists to be medication experts if we are unwilling to support them and utilize their scope of practice to maximize efficiency and patient care in our healthcare system? Why does the taxpayer subsidize the training of a young pharmacist in our province when this student‘s scope of practice cannot be utilized upon graduation? Why remove the pharmacist from the equation in providing medication services for addiction treatment when pharmacists are the experts in this field. 

Again - pharmacists are medication therapy experts. They provide high-value services with the ability to save healthcare in this province millions of dollars.

Pharmacists are here to fight the opioid crisis. Support us in our efforts to do so and the patients of this province will be better served. 

Happy Pharmacist Awareness Month

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