Check the news and one will hear about the nation-wide opioid epidemic. The misuse of opioids has become a serious public health issue that affects the physical, social and economic welfare of those it touches. Accidental overdose is far too common. Fortunately, there is something that can help combat overdose — Naloxone.
“Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose,” said Rajul A. Patel ’01, ’06, PharmD, PhD, professor of pharmacy practice. “Naloxone can quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of an opioid overdose.”
San Joaquin County Public Health Services (SJCPHS) formed an Opioid Coalition that consists of pharmacists, prescribers, first responders, public health officials, community advocates and others concerned with this pressing issue, including Dr. Patel. The Coalition identified seniors as one of the two high-risk populations for opioid overdose in San Joaquin County.
In 2017, 21 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S., resulting in thousands of opioid related overdoses.
In San Joaquin County alone, 531,361 opioid prescriptions were dispensed in 2017.
In 2017, there were 57 opioid-related overdose deaths in San Joaquin County.
The increase from 2015 to 2017 in opioid-related overdose deaths in San Joaquin County, a higher opioid overdose death rate than many counties in California, including San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego counties.
Dr. Patel reached out to the chief medical director of SJCPHS regarding the distribution of Naloxone at Pacific’s Medicare Part D Outreach Clinics. “We have cultivated a long-standing relationship with Public Health,” Dr. Patel explained. “The fact that seniors were a high-risk population in our county coupled with the fact that we have a well-established Medicare outreach program, during which the overwhelming majority of attendees are seniors, crystallized that we were ideally positioned to help.”
With funding from the California Department of Public Health, SJCPHS committed to providing doses of Narcan Nasal Spray, which is a form of Naloxone that can be easily administered. This year, 33 individuals received Narcan at one of Pacific’s Medicare Part D Outreach Clinics.
Dr. Patel emphasized that the collaboration with SJCPHS not only benefits the community, it also benefits Pacific’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students. “They learn first-hand how real this problem is and how we can help address it,” Dr. Patel said. “Students have real-life interactions with patients who can benefit. Medicare-trained students were in charge of patient screening for the appropriateness of Narcan distribution and another group of our students, from the Drug Awareness Committee, were in charge of the detailed counseling that accompanied each Naloxone kit distribution. We intend to make this initiative a permanent part of our Medicare Part D Outreach Clinics.”
To give students an understanding of their role and how Naloxone can help curb this public health crisis, Naloxone education is provided in the current curriculum and will be enhanced in the revised PharmD curriculum, which will be implemented in fall 2019. Students will continue to be trained in accordance with the guidelines provided by the California Board of Pharmacy. Students will also be provided with the opportunity to participate in the screening, distribution and counseling of Naloxone to patients and their families or friends during School-sponsored Medicare Part D Outreach Clinics.
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold