Pharmacists joining forces to fight opioid epidemic

Cat litter can be used to dispose of unwanted or unused prescription pills safely, according to the Ohio Pharmacists Association. Pour water into a plastic, sealable bag with the litter and the pills, mix them up and then dispose in the trash. KATIE WEDELL/STAFF

Pharmacists are the latest group banding together in Ohio to fight the opioid epidemic.

The Ohio Pharmacists Association announced at its annual conference in Columbus, Friday, the creation of a task force to promote safe medication practices that prevent powerful narcotics from getting into the wrong hands and spurring addiction.

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The OPA is also encouraging more local task forces, which many cities and counties have in place to combat the high number of opioid overdoses in their communities to include a local pharmacist.

“Often we are left out,” said Ernest Boyd, executive director of OPA. “We have the most training in the safe use of drugs.”

Pharmacists have been on the front lines of the opioid crisis, Boyd said, advising patients on new prescribing guidelines for acute or short-term pain, and explaining why the number of pain pills they receive may now be limited. They also are able to explore alternaive pain management options with patients, including over-the-counter options.

Pharmacists are also working to educate patients on proper use and the importance of proper disposal of narcotics.

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Boyd and Dr. Michael Ybarra, an emergency physician and deputy vice president of advocacy and strategic alliances for the drug industry group PhRMA, demonstrated several techniques for disposing of unused pills at a press conference Friday morning.

In addition to drug disposal bags that many counties and pharmacies are distributing for free, there are two common, household products that can be used to safely dispose of unwanted medication. Those are coffee grounds and cat litter. By placing those substances in a plastic bag and adding the pills and water, the medication becomes safe to throw away in the trash.

“Do what you have to to get these drugs out of the house,” Ybarra said. It’s estimated that 60 percent of people who become hooked on opioids started by taking something out of a medicine cabinet, he said. Safe disposal keeps powerful drugs from getting into the hands of children and teens.

OPA is working with Generation Rx, a statewide education program for young people about proper medication use.

Pharmaceutical knockoffs laced with fentanyl have been identified in deaths of young people on college campuses in Ohio, Boyd said. Students are taking as little as one pill they think is Xanax or another substance and are dying of fentanyl overdose.

“We are encouraging youth to not get pills on campus or from friends,” Boyd said.

National Drug Take Back Day is April 28 and Ohio’s pharmacists are encouraging customers to turn in any unused pills at hundreds of locations across the state on that day.

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