Pharmacists Help Customers Stop Prescription Drug Abuse
Heather Stringer, Monster Contributing Writer
Sleuthing may not be part of a pharmacist’s official job description, but most druggists call on their detective skills when they suspect a customer is abusing a prescription drug.
Knowing the possible signs of addiction and how to respond to them will give pharmacists the best chance of helping customers who may be in trouble.
Although it’s wise to give customers the benefit of the doubt, pharmacists should be alert to warning signals that someone is abusing a drug.
“All healthcare professionals have to be careful about labeling someone as an addict,” says Rod Shafer, RPh, CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association. “They may be taking a large amount of narcotics but have a legitimate reason to do so. But that doesn’t negate the fact that one of our roles is to make sure drugs are taken appropriately.”
Customers abusing drugs may try to get refills earlier than prescribed, fill a prescription for the same medication using different physicians or demand a prescription be filled the same day it’s brought in. It can be harder to detect customers who visit multiple pharmacies to obtain the same medication. However, as a relief worker at several pharmacies when she first moved to Pierre, South Dakota, Julie Meintsma, RPh, recognized customers who had been in other drugstores where she was also filling in.
“I had seen someone at one pharmacy one day, and then I saw them at another pharmacy,” she says. “We did some checking and then alerted the department of health.”
To collect more clues, a pharmacist can call other pharmacies to ask if a customer has been filling prescriptions there also. If the evidence suggests drug abuse, the first step is usually to call the customer’s doctor.
“We tell the doctor that we think there may be a problem,” says Mary Jane Fry, PharmD, a pharmacist at Medic Pharmacy. “We don’t usually try to confront the patient, because that is something the doctor will do. As a pharmacist, you don’t always know the circumstances, so you can’t be privy to a disease the patient has or some extra stress that warrants them taking more than usual.”
The most commonly abused prescription drugs include pain medications like hydrocodone or oxycodone, anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepine and muscle relaxants such as carisoprodol, Fry says.