Interprofessional connection

Physicians and pharmacists work together to reduce opioid abuse

Physicians and pharmacists must work together to stem the epidemic of overdose deaths, says DO pain expert.


Despite a shared interest in reducing the number of overdose deaths related to prescription opioid abuse, physicians and pharmacists aren’t always on the same page when it comes to determining responsibility for recognizing and preventing misuse of controlled substances.

For the past two years, the AOA has worked to combat this problem by joining a work group organized by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to establish best practices for better communication between physicians and pharmacists. Another goal is to prevent abuse of opioid pain relievers and other prescription drugs.

Although the U.S. government stipulates that both physicians and pharmacists are responsible for making sure the controlled substances they prescribe and dispense are issued for legitimate medical purposes, the two disparate groups are not always aware of the steps each must take to prevent misuse.

Because pharmacists are tasked with determining the validity of controlled substances scripts, they may occasionally need to call the prescribing health care professional to obtain additional information or clarification about a prescription. Physicians who don’t know about the pharmacists’ corresponding responsibility may interpret such requests as pharmacists attempting to intrude into the physicians’ scope of practice.

“Many physicians figure they are on the hook because they are the ones writing the scripts, and the pharmacists sell pills, and that’s it,” says Mark Bailey, DO, PhD, a neurology professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “But that’s just not true. There’s going to have to be more cooperation between doctors and pharmacists going forward.”

Collaborative solutions

Serving as an AOA representative at the NABP meetings, Dr. Bailey helped strategize ways different stakeholders—physicians, pharmacists, manufacturers and distributors—can work together to achieve the following objectives:

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  • Establish best practices to identify potential prescription drug misuse and diversion.
  • Collaborate on prescribing and dispensing activities to help eliminate the prescription drug epidemic.
  • Prevent patients who legitimately need controlled substances from experiencing unneeded delays in receiving their medications.

Following a series of meetings, the work group developed a document outlining the challenges physicians and pharmacists face when prescribing and dispensing controlled substances. The document also includes “red flag” warning signs to help both groups better recognize abuse and diversion of prescription drugs. For a draft copy of the document, email the AOA’s Bureau on State Government Affairs (BGSA).

The AOA and the other organizations involved plan to use this information to create webinars, CME modules and journal articles. Doing so will not only assist physicians in their practice, but also promote interprofessional collaboration, Dr. Bailey notes.

“The level of interprofesional communication needs to increase, particularly with respect to controlled substances, so we can begin to stem the epidemic of overdose deaths,” he says.

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