State enlists pharmacists to combat opioid crisis

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Marion Bradley, pharmacist and co-owner of Beacon Falls Pharmacy, shows the Narcan nasal spray and overdose kit the pharmacy prescribes. A state law passed last year allows pharmacists to get a license to prescribe Narcan to customers. The drug is used to treat opioid overdose. –LUKE MARSHALL

Pharmacists are now on the front line of the state’s battle with opioid addiction.

The number of overdose deaths from opioids has risen over the past few years, and state officials have described the issue as an opioid crisis. To combat the crisis, the legislature has passed laws to make Narcan, also known as Naloxone, more accessible to the public. The drug is used to treat opioid overdose.

Several years ago the state passed a law to give first responders the ability to administer Narcan. Last year, the legislature passed a law that allows pharmacists to get trained and a license to prescribe Narcan to customers.

Marion Bradley, pharmacist and co-owner of Beacon Falls Pharmacy, has already seen the impact the latter law can have on saving lives.

Earlier this month, Bradley spoke of a customer who came to the pharmacy to support her friend, who was buying Narcan because she took prescription opioids for pain. After learning about Narcan the woman decided to purchase it as well, fearing for the safety of her child, who has a drug addiction problem, Bradley recalled.

In November, the woman found her child suffering the symptoms of overdose and was able to administer Narcan, saving the child’s life, Bradley said.

The licenses for pharmacists are awarded by the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“We wanted to make sure there was another point of contact for those suffering to get access to Naloxone. Scheduling a doctor’s visits could take weeks and emergency room visits are expensive,” said Lora Anderson, spokesman for the Department of Consumer Protection Drug Control Division. “People can come in and talk with their pharmacists. They can get it for themselves and their family members can get it for them as well.”

According to the department, the law is the first of its kind in the nation.

“Pharmacists are regarded as a pivotal link in the health care system, with multiple opportunities to interact with patients, families and caregivers Their front-line status in communities requires that they have every resource available to help people find ongoing addiction treatment if needed,” the department’s website states.

Bradley has been prescribing and filling orders for Narcan since April. In that time, she has seen an increase in the number of people who ask about the drug and purchase it.

“For me, personally, I had an upswing on people asking about it after coming to an open house Beacon Hose Company had in October,” Bradley said. “One lady talked to me there and came in within the next week and had us dispense it to her.”

Thor Huntley, a pharmacist and owner of Ford Pharmacy in Naugatuck, has had his license to prescribe Narcan since March. He said he hasn’t seen an increase in the number of people coming in for the drug yet.

“I’m not sure if it is due to the fact that the information is still disseminating, but the need and want hasn’t risen at our store,” Huntley said.

Huntley said he decided to get the license because a number of groups the pharmacy works with, including local youth groups, asked him about getting Narcan in case of emergencies.

“I was more than willing to do that,” Huntley said.

Bradley and Huntley are just two of the many pharmacists across the state who have opted to take advantage of the law.

According to Anderson, there are over 1,000 pharmacists at 369 pharmacies currently licensed to prescribe Narcan.

Huntley said if people need or want Narcan it is as simple as going on the Department of Consumer Protection’s website and searching for a licensed pharmacist near them.

“You can go on the state’s website, find a pharmacist in your area, and they can write a prescription out. Then you will be trained on it,” Huntley said. “It is as easy as that.”

“Every person I dispensed it to we have stayed after hours and gone through the training of the device and signs of what to look for in case of an opioid emergency,” Bradley added.

Bradley said the important thing for people to realize is that they can receive a prescription for Narcan even if they aren’t the ones who will ultimately need it.

“You can come in and ask for a prescription that is billed to you, but it can be for a friend. The way the law was written is so you can get it for yourself to be used on loved one,” Bradley said.