Can Pharmacies Help Reduce Overdose Deaths?

Aug 6, 2015

Can pharmacies play a bigger role to prevent death from drug overdose? That’s the question researchers from Rhode Island and Massachusetts hope to answer thanks to a new $1.3 million dollar federal grant from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 

Naloxone can be administered via injection into the muscle or via nasal spray. This kit contains the nasal spray, which some police departments now carry in every cruiser.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The team plans to figure out how pharmacies can promote the use of a drug called naloxone (sometimes called Narcan).

Naloxone can reverse the effects of a prescription painkiller or heroin overdose in seconds. And most pharmacies in Rhode Island and Massachusetts stock the drug. But researchers want to know more about how often it’s prescribed, who’s using it, and whether it’s helping reduce overdose deaths in particular areas.

University of Rhode Island clinical professor of pharmacy Jeffrey Bratberg, along with Rhode Island Hospital and Boston Medical Center researcher Traci Green, is a co-investigator in the study.

“We have all these stores in Rhode island and Massachusetts that have naloxone in place," said Bratberg. "Now we have a grant to say, 'What’s the best way to implement this? What’s the best way to market these services?'”

The study involves researchers from Rhode Island Hospital, Boston Medical Center, and the University of Rhode Island, who will partner with CVS Health to investigate some 400 pharmacies.

Bratberg says pharmacists already counsel patients, but they're in a good position to educate patients who take addictive prescription painkillers about the risks.

“So it’s really encouraging that conversation that typically happens between pharmacists who dispense any medication that has risks, but to have sort of a longer conversation to say, if you add another medication, if you drank alcohol with this, it puts you at risk of signs of overdose and perhaps overdose itself," said Bratberg. "Naloxone is there for your family members to save you.”

Naloxone is already available in pharmacies in both states, but rates of overdose deaths continue to climb.