While Ohio jury in November laid some of the blame for that state’s opioid epidemic at the feet of pharmacists, medication experts in Phoenix have their own opinions about the issue.
A federal jury on Nov. 23 found three national pharmacies — Walgreens, CVS and Walmart — liable for helping to increase the U.S. opioid epidemic. This case was about the responsibilities of the pharmacies in stopping dangerous drugs from reaching vulnerable community streets.
Pharmacists in the Phoenix area, however, shed light on how the responsibilities of the job overlap with a bigger problem.
“It’s very unfortunate what’s going on with the opioids” but “pharmacists and doctors are now held responsible,” said Walgreens pharmacist Dwanbolyn H., who asked that her last name not be used.
She explained that this issue starts with doctors over-prescribing medication, and pharmacists not being able to challenge prescriptions in the past.
Dwanbolyn said she does not believe pharmacists are the people who should be held accountable.
Dwanbolyn also said in light of the recent issues of the opioid epidemic, pharmacists now “have more power and are allowed to say no.”
This allows pharmacists to help as the last line of defense against these drugs hitting the streets as they can refuse to give out any prescriptions that they think seem a little excessive or are not quite right.
Dwanbolyn went on to say she believes the reputation of pharmacists have unfairly been affected, but “we are still trusted” and that she believes the overall integrity of her profession remains intact.
In Arizona, opioids have been suspected in 11,235 deaths between June 15, 2017, and Nov. 26, 2021, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. In addition, there were more than 81,100 suspected overdoses of opioids.
CVS pharmacist John Wells sees both sides of the issue.
“The epidemic is real, and pharmacists and doctors are working together” to stop it from growing, he said.
However, Wells acknowledged “there were pharmacists as well as doctors that were getting rich and profiting. There’s always going to be abuse and I don’t know if it’s equal or not,” when referring to whether the blame is on pharmacists or doctors.
When referring to newer policies within CVS regarding the distribution of powerful medicines, he explained there is more accountability of pharmacists and they are being more closely observed than in previous times to help prevent further development of the opioid epidemic.
Wells then went on to say that “CVS backs us up 100%. We have total autonomy if we don’t feel comfortable filling a prescription.” So, “Pharmacists can no longer hide behind that excuse,” he said.
The excuse being that pharmacists just have to fill whatever a doctor prescribed regardless if they think it’s appropriate or not.
Opposing Wells, Walmart pharmacist Quang Nguyen said he believes pharmacists should take more responsibility for the products they are dispensing.
“On our end, with the epidemic, we are on the front line and we have a little bit more responsibility,” he said.
Nguyen said he believes pharmacists have to pay closer attention to each individual prescription.
“We have to look at the fill for red flags,” he said.
However, Nguyen said he believes the reputation of pharmacists, overall, has not been affected and is still good, adding, “We don’t just dispense that class of medication only,” and, “We’re trusted in that way to take care of patients’ needs first,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Brooke Rindenau is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
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