Summer 2016

How to curb opioid abuse


Opioid addiction is a growing problem in America. The issue is complex, of course, but University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy professor Lowell J. Anderson, ’62 B.S., believes some relatively simple changes in drug policy and health care practices could help turn the tide.

“Pharmacists can play a role in making change happen—if we let them.”
Lowell J. Anderson, College of Pharmacy professor

Anderson advocates changing U.S. drug enforcement policy to allow pharmacists to fill prescriptions for controlled substances like opioids in partial quantities.

Often, when doctors write prescriptions for such medications as OxyContin and Vicodin, they increase the quantity so patients don’t have to get new prescriptions and pay multiple copays. It's difficult to predict how much pain medication a patient will need, Anderson notes, so there’s a fair chance that pain will subside before the full prescription is used.

That leaves the door open for abuse, he adds: “A teenage kid finds some Percocet in the medicine cabinet and develops a problem.”

Insurers also can play a role in controlling opioid circulation by allowing pharmacists to fill “starter prescriptions” for medications—a popular concept in Europe, Anderson says. Prescribing and dispensing small quantities would allow patients to test drugs for effectiveness before investing in, say, a 90-day supply. If the drug worked, the remainder of the prescription could be filled without financial penalty. In theory, he says, the overall amount of opioids used or wasted would decrease.

“We really are stretched as to how to solve this problem,” says Anderson, who codirects the U’s Center for Leading Healthcare Change, which is supported by philanthropy. “But pharmacists can play a role in making change happen—if we let them.”

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