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Anti-drug abuse efforts advance

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WASHINGTON — The National Association of Chain Drug Stores is urging the Senate to pass legislation that it says would spur collaboration among health and enforcement authorities for drug abuse solutions “that maintain patients’ legitimate access to medications” while fighting opioid abuse.

The trade organization supports the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 (S. 483), which at presstime was awaiting consideration by the full Senate. The Senate judiciary committee approved the bill on February 11. The House of Representatives passed a largely similar version of the measure (H.R. 471) in April 2015.

The act, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), also has the support of the Healthcare Distribution Management Association.

On behalf of NACDS, president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) that states: “NACDS and the chain pharmacy industry are committed to partnering with policy makers to develop viable strategies to prevent opioid abuse, as well as all prescription drug diversion and abuse. To this end, we support policies that empower law enforcement to protect Americans against the dangers of prescription drug diversion and abuse while maintaining legitimate patient access to needed medications.”

The legislation would foster the development of such policies through the collaboration of several federal agencies to identify obstacles to patients’ access to controlled substances. NACDS asserts that collaboration between agencies and stakeholders would benefit patients and prevent diversion and abuse of prescription drugs. The legislation would require consultation with patient and provider groups, including pharmacies, among other stakeholders.

“We appreciate the recognition of pharmacies as critical stakeholders in efforts to prevent prescription drug diversion and abuse,” the letter stated. “Pharmacies have a dual role when it comes to battling prescription drug abuse: They have to be part of the solution by working with law enforcement officials to stop prescription drug abuse, but they also have to maintain their responsibilities to patients by making sure they receive the medications they legitimately need.”

Individual retailers are also engaged in the initiative to combat opioid and heroin overdose deaths. Walgreens has made naloxone, which health officials say is a potentially lifesaving opioid antidote, available without a prescription in New York state, Indiana and Ohio in accordance with pharmacy regulations in those states. Walgreens previously announced plans to make naloxone available without a prescription in 35 states and Washington, D.C., based on pharmacy regulations, and expressed a willingness to work with states that currently bar dispensing the antidote without a prescription.

Similarly, Kroger Co. announced that it will make the overdose reversal medicine available without a prescription at 84 pharmacies in Ohio as well as 16 pharmacies in northern Kentucky. “Unfortunately, Ohio and Kentucky rank in the top five when it comes to the highest overdose death rate,’’ said Jeff Talbot, vice president of merchandising for Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton division, adding that the statistics he cited are based on research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, Robert Kaliff, the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told agency advisers that the FDA will support efforts to develop painkillers that are more difficult to abuse. “We can work with prescribers, professional associations, patient advocates, and state and local partners to encourage safe use and disposal of opioid medications,” he said.

At the state level, the National Governors Association pledged to devise treatment protocols aimed at reducing the epidemic of drug overdose deaths. NGA said its guidelines are expected to include numerical limits on prescriptions and other restrictions. “Opioids are passed out like candy in America,” charged Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont.


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