POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Drug abuse, including the abuse of prescription painkillers, has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., and no state has been hit harder than West Virginia.
Fruth Pharmacy, according to company chairman and president Lynne Fruth, is trying to make a difference in the lives of those in its communities who are affected by addiction. “We decided we wanted to be on the front lines,” she says.
The company’s first effort in fighting abuse was pulling single-ingredient pseudoephedrine (PSE) products from the shelves of all its stores, even though it hurt the bottom line. “It was the right thing to do,” Fruth says, adding that the decision resulted in about a 20% loss in business. “I decided that wasn’t a business we should be engaged in anyway.”
Pseudoephedrine is the main ingredient used in making methamphetamine, or meth.
Shortly after Fruth discontinued over-the-counter sales of single-ingredient PSE products — the first pharmacy chain to do so — Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) picked up the charge, which led other pharmacy chains to reduce the availability of single-ingredient PSE products. Fruth notes that since the company took this action, there has been a 60% drop in meth use in the state, which results in not only less addiction and fewer overdoses, but also less strain on law enforcement and less environmental damage from meth labs. “We stood up,” Lynne Fruth says. “Little ole Fruth. We made a difference.”
In addition, Fruth teamed up with Nexafed, a company that has worked to create medications that have meth-deterrent properties. Nexafed turns into an unusable gel when one is attempting to make meth with it.
As for the problem of opioid abuse, the other front in the war against drug abuse, the problem started, in Fruth’s opinion, because painkillers were being overprescribed. “It affected people from every walk of life, and they ended up going down a terrible path,” she says.
These highly addictive drugs that are prescribed for chronic pain and injuries caused many patients to get hooked. Responding to the problem, the health care industry, along with the Drug Enforcement Agency, began cracking down on these drugs, resulting in the unintended negative consequence of pain sufferers turning to heroin because painkillers were harder to get. “That’s when we started seeing more overdoses,” Fruth says.
To combat the overdose problem, Fruth Pharmacy began looking at naloxone, an emergency medication used to counter the effects of overdose. “We trained our pharmacists on how to counsel and dispense this lifesaving medication,” Fruth says. “We met with former Gov. Tomblin on how to put new laws into place. We got on board early.”
Fruth says the company has also put in place comprehensive policies and procedures with regard to the dispensing of controlled substances, mandatory edits, and reviews of selected prescriptions that trigger multiple red flags of potential abuse.
Fruth Pharmacy also participates in a needle exchange program, which, along with administering naloxone, has its share of controversy. Fruth says she had to think long and hard about needle exchanges, but concluded that it was better than addicts shooting up with and sharing dirty needles. Not only does the program help reduce the spread of disease, but when addicts come in to get clean needles they have the opportunity to speak to a recovery coach, receive social services and birth control, and get health screenings, including one for hepatitis C.
Fruth says the issue of how to help addicts get clean is complicated and has no easy answers, but she notes that she entered the pharmacy industry to help people. “I don’t get to decide who lives or dies,” she says.