By Cindy Foster

UNM Addressing Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic remains a critical health crisis in America. Pharmacists are poised to be on the front lines in combating accidental opioid overdoses, yet in rural area with scarce resources, they face a daunting list of obstacles to getting information and pharmaceutical supplies to their customers.

Researchers from Minnesota and Massachusetts are joining researchers in the College of Pharmacy and School of Medicine to create effective educational interventions for pharmacists through the CONsiDER project, according to Project Director Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, PhD, a professor at the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administrative Sciences, UNM College of Pharmacy.

The collaboration's goal is to develop pharmacy-based interventions that are both universal and state- specific.

"Pharmacists can make an acute impact within their communities. This project shows the power pharmacy research can have when it is embedded in an academic institution, pursuing all three of our missions of education, research and clinical care," according to Richard Larson, MD, PhD, executive vice chancellor for the UNM Health Sciences.

The numerous routes in which people fall into opioid use disorder also complicate the situation. Today's classification of opiates ranges from a variety of drugs ranging from legal drugs such as fentanyl, codeine, and morphine to illegal drugs such as heroin. It means healthcare professionals need educational materials that will be effective when speaking to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from teenagers to mid-level professionals facing pain from injuries to seniors dealing with long-term chronic pain issues.

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, yet people have a tendency to shy away from having it in their homes. How do you persuade a 70-year-old patient with a chronic non-cancer pain about the need for naloxone? Can a fire extinguisher analogy about naloxone be made with a parent of a teenager who might be at risk?

At a recent meeting at UNM, the researchers worked on creating training materials for pharmacists to use when identifying and speaking with customers who might be at risk of opioid overdose and offering naloxone.

"One big misconception we have to address is that people mistakenly think that having naloxone available will encourage opioid use," says Bakhireva.

The coalition's agenda is ambitious and moving quickly. The CONsiDER team will start delivering training to identified pharmacies in December, 2018. "The quick pace the group has set for itself is good," Larson says. "We need to move fast in this rapidly changing situation."

Categories: College of Pharmacy, Community Engagement, Health, Research, Top Stories