(Salt Lake City, Utah) – From 2002 to 2015, there was a 29.4 percent increase in the rate of prescription opioids dispensed in Utah. In 2015, this averaged to almost five opioid prescriptions per patient. Today, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), Utah Pharmacy Association, and Utah Department of Commerce launched a month-long initiative, called “Talk to Your Pharmacist Month,” to encourage pharmacists and the public to talk about the risks of taking opioid prescriptions.
Every month in Utah, 24 individuals (residents and non-residents) die from prescription opioid overdoses. “Given the high number of deaths associated with prescription opioids, understanding the risks of opioids is vital to patient safety. These risks may include physical dependency, addiction, or even death,” said Angela Dunn, UDOH deputy state epidemiologist.
Data from a UDOH report, Opioid Prescribing Practices in Utah 2002-2015, showed that in January 2016 alone, there were more than 210,000 opioid prescriptions written by more than 9,000 prescribers in Utah; equating to a monthly average of 23 opioid prescriptions per prescriber.
“As pharmacists, we play a vital role in educating our customers about the risks of opioids, signs of an opioid overdose, safe storage and disposal of prescription opioids, and the use of naloxone,” said Greg Jones, director of pharmacy for Harmons and chairman of the Utah Pharmacy Licensing Board.
As part of the initiative, pharmacists will place stickers on the top of opioid prescription bottles that warn of the risk for addiction and overdose and distribute educational materials to customers. “We hope that when people see these warning stickers, they will ask us about the medications they have been prescribed and what they should watch for and do in case of a potential overdose,” said Jones.
An opioid overdose can take place even when used as directed, especially if taken with other medications such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, or sleep aids. Many people are unaware of which medications are opioids or of the risks associated with taking them. Commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, tramadol, fentanyl, hydromorphone, meperidine, methadone, and morphine.
“Opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented by timely administration of naloxone. If your doctor hasn’t already prescribed naloxone with an opioid you are taking, ask your pharmacist about how to get a naloxone kit,” said Dunn. As of December 2016, pharmacists in Utah can dispense naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, without a prior prescription to anyone at increased risk of experiencing an opioid overdose.
In addition, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency will hold its annual National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 29, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Utahns are encouraged to clean out their medicine cabinets and bring expired, unused, and unwanted prescription medications to a disposal site. Locations vary across the state and can be found at http://utahtakeback.org. If you are unable to go to a Drug Take Back Day event, a list of permanent, year-round sites can also be found on the site.
A list of pharmacies that stock naloxone kits can be found at https://naloxone.utah.gov. For information on opioids or the “Talk to Your Pharmacist Month” initiative, visit http://opidemic.org or http://health.utah.gov/vipp.
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