‘He came into the pharmacy, in tears’: How Australian pharmacists are playing a role in reducing opioid deaths
The Penington Institute released Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2020 this Monday to coincide with International Overdose Awareness Day.
According to the new report, opioids continue to be the primary drug group associated with unintentional drug-induced deaths, and a high proportion of these involve pharmaceutical opioids.
For example, in 2018 there were 2070 drug-induced deaths of which 1556 were unintentional. Pharmaceutical opioids were involved in 457 (29%) of these unintentional deaths, while all opioids including heroin were identified in 900 (58%) deaths.
In his foreword, Penington Institute CEO John Ryan suggests expanding the take home naloxone pilot from three states to every jurisdiction in Australia. The pilot, currently running across NSW, SA and WA, makes naloxone available free and without prescription through community pharmacies.
Naloxone is a life-saving medicine that reverses the effects of opioids in case of an emergency, while waiting for an ambulance.
However researchers from the Monash Addiction Research Centre and Turning Point recently found many patients prescribed opioids were unaware of the role of naloxone, and most pharmacists never offered naloxone to patients—citing overdose as a low priority and a lack of tools available to support their conversations with patients.
This led to the development of new resources for pharmacists and patients, which have been recently released.
The pharmacist resources, which include a video (above) as well as a leaflet and a poster, talk about who is most at risk of unintentional overdose and provides guidance on how pharmacists can talk to patients about naloxone.
Pharmacists from across the Pharmacy 777 network have told AJP how they start these conversations and ways their life-saving naloxone programs have been supporting people across their communities.
“A few months ago I asked a patient who purchased a Fitpack if they would like take home naloxone. I advised them, ‘You never know who you cross paths with and who you can save from an overdose’,” said pharmacist Somayyeh Atagazli from Nollamara, WA.
The next day he came into the pharmacy, in tears, and said his best friend overdosed and he was able to save his life.
“Only recently, one of our pharmacists also mentioned another story about a patient who used the Nyxoid spray on his friend – this is the second person we heard save a life!
“In Nollamara, we have had such great success from the program and our community has really seen the value in this service,” said Ms Atagazli.
“We have handed out approximately 700 kits of naloxone and information. We can also educate younger populations on drugs, the effects on their health, how to use naloxone and also provide information on where they can seek help to regarding illicit drugs. The work that a pharmacist can help with in this area is vast.”
Meanwhile pharmacist Gosia Andrysiak from Pharmacy 777 Canning Bridge had a story of her own: “We had a recent experience with a young lady near the pharmacy.
“The pharmacist on duty called an ambulance and administered two doses of naloxone nasal spray, which potentially saved her life before the ambulance arrived.”
The pharmacist also followed up her actions by giving the young lady two naloxone to take home and some education on its use, she added.
Pharmacy 777 Mandurah has 80 patients on the Community Program for Opioid Pharmacotherapy to which they provide naloxone, after applying for a special license from the Department of Health. This service has been extended to any patient on pain medication where there may be the potential for overdose.
“One of our regular patients opened up about problems they were having with overuse of opioid-based pain killers,” said pharmacist Peta Bennett.
“Our pharmacist was able to educate both the patient and their carer on the use of the Nyxoid nasal spray. Having this available at home ensures both the patient and their family are less anxious about the continued use of opioid-based medication for pain management.
“Opening this conversation with our patients was very hard at the outset, but the education our pharmacists embraced through the naloxone program made it easier to talk to our patients about this sensitive but lifesaving topic.”