Taking Action Against Opioid Abuse

Published on 25 July 2018

St. Louis College of Pharmacy has positioned itself as a leader in the fight against opioid abuse. From prescription medication collection to research into the addictive nature of opioids, our students, faculty, staff and research centers have passionately invested themselves in combating this epidemic.

Engaging in the Community

Under the leadership of Amy Tiemeier, B.S. ’01, Pharm.D. ’02, BCPS, director, community partnerships and associate director, experiential education and associate professor of pharmacy practice, the College has participated in National Drug Take Back Day for six years. A week before the nationally designated day, the College collaborates with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging to conduct a door-to-door take back event. Since 2011, the door-to-door events, along with medication take back events have resulted in the collection of over 2,000 pounds of medications.

“Recent headlines about opioids and heroin have raised awareness on how to properly store and dispose of prescription medications,” Tiemeier said. “We can all help our families and neighbors by remaining vigilant and properly removing these medications from our homes when they are no longer necessary.”

The College was able to reach additional area residents with its medication disposal efforts in October 2016 following a generous contribution from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. The company donated 50,000 medication deactivation pouches to St. Louis College of Pharmacy and NCADA-St. Louis that were provided to area senior centers, patients, parents and local law enforcement. The user-friendly pouches deactivate prescription medications and render chemical compounds safe for landfills.

“Mallinckrodt’s donation provides patients in our community with a tangible way to reduce availability and access to expired and unused prescription pain medications by helping to clear out cabinets and cupboards in the St. Louis area,” said John A. Pieper, Pharm.D., FAPhA, FCCP, president of the College. “This is one key component of a larger, long-term public health campaign by St. Louis College of Pharmacy to teach the importance of safe medication use and disposal.”

As a founding member of Missouri Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal (Missouri P2D2), the College is helping to ensure that area residents have a safe place to drop off their unwanted medications. Since 2012, Missouri P2D2 has established 20 permanent medication disposal boxes in St. Louis City and County. The boxes provide a safe alternative that is more environmentally friendly than landfills or sewer systems.

Expanding Knowledge in the Profession

In recent months, the College has been focused on educating community pharmacists about opioid abuse and the benefits of naloxone distribution for overdose death prevention. The efforts are part of the Missouri Opioid State Targeted Response grant, which aims to expand access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services for individuals with opioid use disorder. Following the passage of a law authorizing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription under a statewide standing order, Tiemeier partnered with Nicole Gattas, Pharm.D., FAPhA, BCPS, assistant director of community and ambulatory care, experiential education and associate professor of pharmacy practice, to lead naloxone training sessions for community pharmacists across Missouri to educate them on the new legislation and encourage them to dispense naloxone.

To date, the sessions have reached more than 170 pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians. The College was also on the front lines as St. Louis County worked to implement its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Tiemeier served as a member of the program’s application evaluation committee, and once the PDMP was established, she was selected to serve on its technical advisory committee. As the committee’s only pharmacy representative, Tiemeier provides critical input on the system’s functionality to ensure ease of use for pharmacists accessing the PDMP.

Advancing Research

Researchers at the College’s Center for Clinical Pharmacology are also using their talents to address the opioid problem. Recently appointed faculty researchers Ream Al-Hasani, Ph.D., and Jordan G. McCall, Ph.D., are both investigating the neuroscience behind addiction to expand understanding of opioid abuse and addiction. Al-Hasani’s research will use multidisciplinary approaches to further understanding of the negative affective behaviors associated with the withdrawal phase of addiction and the interaction of endogenous opioid systems with commonly prescribed opioid pain medications.

McCall’s work also includes a multidisciplinary research program to investigate the neural mechanisms of the underlying emotional distress associated with stress, chronic pain and addiction. The center is bringing together researchers and resources from the College and the Department of Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to find better, safer and more effective ways to use prescription medications to improve health.

“We are focused on innovative solutions to find answers to the national epidemic of abuse and misuse of analgesic agents,” Pieper said. “This partnership will allow pharmacists, physicians and researchers to work seamlessly across both institutions to advance these research objectives."

This story was first published in the spring 2018 issue of Script. Visit stlcop.edu/script to read more and access previous issues.

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