Is harm minimisation working in pharmacy?

Pharmacy is still missing a few beats when it comes to provide effective harm minimisation support, a study finds, with stigmatising an issue

While community pharmacies are well positioned to participate in harm-minimisation services for both licit and illicit substances, there are currently barriers restricting their role in this area, a new Australian study has found. 

Interviews with 28 participants (mostly pharmacists and pharmacy staff, but also some consumers) showed scope for expansion of the role of community pharmacy, but also highlighted “the complexities involved in service provision, with room for improvement in some areas”, said the study authors, from Griffith University, Queensland.  

Some interview stakeholders believed that community pharmacies were underutilised in the provision of harm minimisation and related patient care services, such as support with pain and oral health management and monitoring for infections.

However, interviewed consumers focused solely on pharmacy’s role in providing needle and syringe (NSP) and opioid treatment (OTP) programs.

Although these are “crucial harm minimisation strategies”, this “narrow view of the role of community pharmacy” was similar to previous findings, the authors said. 

“New community pharmacy services and roles had since become available and been implemented,” they added.

A number of the surveyed pharmacists described increased job satisfaction and client rapport from providing harm minimisation services. 

However some problems were raised about judgemental behaviour. 

“Being supportive and non-judgemental were viewed as essential by pharmacists, and stakeholders emphasised the importance of accessible, friendly, and holistic services that incorporate patient-centred care,” the authors said.

“However, stigma was identified as a barrier, with pharmacy staff and consumers sharing stories about consumers feeling stigmatised or staff interacting with these consumers differently compared to other
pharmacy consumers.

These barriers are not unique compared to other study findings on the implementation of harm-minimisation services in community pharmacies, both in Australia and internationally, and must be addressed for the profession to take on a bigger role in harm minimisation”.

The interviews also revealed that pharmacy staff had little collaboration with organisation(s) or services that assist consumers with drug misuse, with only few having a working relationship with these organisations or services. 

“Community pharmacies remain a valuable healthcare destination that could expand delivery of harm minimisation services, albeit with some improvements from within the profession and health sector,” the authors concluded. 

“There is a need for better strategies at local and national levels to facilitate the harm minimisation role of community pharmacies.

Community pharmacists have an opportunity to engage consumers requiring support in harm minimisation, explaining their professional obligations to confidentiality and to foster a trusting relationship.

Better collaboration and sustained linkage between pharmacies and relevant organisations or providers in this sector is vital for the provision of holistic care for these consumers,” they said.

The research was published in the journal Pharmacy.


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