By Ann Ray
Did you know that, according to CDC, approximately 46 people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids? Or that between 1999 and 2016, more than 200,000 people have died from a prescription opioid overdose? With statistics like these, it is understandable that the current opioid crisis in the United States is all over the news. As the Generation Rx Chair for the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science’s (RFUMS) APhA–ASP Chapter, I resolved to find a way to address this issue.
The RFUMS campus is located in North Chicago, IL, a suburb of the Chicago metropolitan area. It sits in the heart of Lake County, nestled between a prosperous community and one with poverty. Lake County is the proud home to “A Way Out” program established by the Lake County Opioid Initiative as well as law enforcements agencies in the county. This program allows people suffering from addiction to seek help without the concern of cost or prosecution. This area is also home to an exceptional not-for-profit organization called Liv4Lali.
Removing the stigma
Liv4Lali was founded by people personally affected by the opioid epidemic. Their mission is “to reduce stigma and prevent substance use disorder among individuals, families, and communities, and minimize the overall health, legal, and social harms associated with substance use.” Liv4Lali provides many services, ranging from assistance with substance abuse treatment to support groups for addicts and their families. They also provide naloxone training. In 2015, Illinois initiated a standing order for naloxone to be dispensed without a prescription. Naloxone is the opioid reversal agent most often used in opioid overdoses. Having access to and knowing how to correctly use naloxone can save the life of someone who has overdosed.
I contacted Liv4Lali and spoke with Director of Operations Laura Fry, who volunteered to come to RFUMS and provide a training session for our student pharmacists. Knowing that Illinois has the standing order for naloxone means that future pharmacists need to understand the current epidemic. Knowing the mechanism of action of the medication is not enough. We need to truly understand addiction as well.
The training session audience of 70 was not only student pharmacists, as faculty and students from the other health professions in the university also attended. Fry spoke about addiction, how it does not discriminate between social classes, and how it can consume lives. We learned about the signs of overdose and the proper administration of naloxone, and most importantly, to understand the importance of removing the stigma associated with drug abuse. Historically, people have associated opioid addiction with members of low class society. Opioid addiction was something to be ashamed of and to keep hidden. Educating people that this epidemic has affected members from all classes of society can help remove this stigma. By removing the stigma associated with addiction of opioids, victims may feel more comfortable asking for assistance.
This program helped reinforce the idea that pharmacists are in a great position to affect the opioid epidemic. Pharmacists dispensing opioids can provide effective counseling and can help people find the correct ways and places to dispose of unused opioids. Additionally, pharmacists educate patients on the signs of overdose, proper administration of naloxone, and proper follow-up care. Through these interventions, pharmacists can decrease the number of opioid overdose victims.
Education will continue
Partnering with Liv4Lali allowed our APhA–ASP Chapter to bring focus on the epidemic to our university. We increased the knowledge of our students, not only regarding use of naloxone rescue, but also regarding the social stigma of opioid abuse. Together we helped disseminate the knowledge to others. We will share the education we received with our classmates, fellow health providers, and most importantly, our patients.
Going forward, our school would like to continue this valuable program annually. Educating each new class of student pharmacists, as well as the other health professional students at our school, is a chapter goal. Liv4Lali proved to be an exceptional partner in our fight against this epidemic. We look forward to future endeavors with this extraordinary organization.
In Fry’s own words, “It was an honor to provide a naloxone presentation and training for the student pharmacists of Rosalind Franklin University. I commend Ann Ray and her classmates for recognizing the seriousness of the opioid epidemic, wanting to be educated, and their desire to make a difference. These students are definitely the ‘change’ I want to see in the world.”