Pharmacists and Their Role in Controlling the Opioid Epidemic

As a member of the healthcare team the pharmacist has an equally important job in deterring this opioid epidemic that is currently wreaking havoc across our country. Many physicians prescribe prescriptions painkillers for patients and they come to the pharmacy; but we are lacking a systematic control method to prevent abuse. For example, in our country it is estimated that 21-29% of people who are prescribed prescription opioids misuse them according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. New federal policies and procedures are making the epidemic a well-known issue and the regulations they are presenting are attempting to reverse years of damage that has already been done.  

One pharmacy has chosen to take a stand which is causing increased awareness due to the limitations it is taking. CVS reported early last week that they will begin to limit opioid prescriptions to a 7-day timeframe with certain restrictions; they are incorporating all of this into a new policy. The policy itself will not take affect till February of 2018 but this is a major topic in the control of opioids. “With a presence in nearly 10,000 communities across the country, we see firsthand the impact of the alarming and rapidly growing epidemic of opioid addiction and misuse,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health.

In addition to the new policy, they will also be increasing the number of drug disposal units in its Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program. This will help patients who are trying to adhere to the new set guidelines and dispose of old or extra medications they may have on hand. In this effort, CVS is working to try and adhere thoroughly to the CDC opioid prescribing guidelines.  


Most Opioid abusers use opioid for illicit reasons. As a pharmacist or a student pharmacist working in the pharmacy there are some little things you can do to help prevent this pandemic. By identifying some of the Red Flags of opioid abuse;

  • If a patient comes in and request for a particular brand or specific color of opioid. This should give you a clue that this patient is selling his or her medication.
  • If they use slang terms (street name of the drug)
  • Insist on paying with cash instead of allowing his or her insurance to cover the cost of the drug.
  • If you have new patients form the same prescriber coming to your pharmacy to fill only opioid.
  • Lack of eye contact especially when it is a new patient filling at your pharmacy
  • If the patient is nervous, be sure to know if they are hiding something  
  • Insisting on getting a refill before the actual refill date.
  • Tampering with the prescription.

In conclusion further steps need to be taken in the battle against opioids and this is one major step in the right direction. Pharmacist should attempt to take further action because we are the final check in the process before the patient receives the prescription medication.