While more than half of Indiana pharmacies stock naloxone, a medication used to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, less than a quarter dispense it. Beth Meyerson thinks she can change that statistic, and Indiana University administrators believe her.
Meyerson, an associate professor of health policy and management, is the co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at IU’s School of Public Health in Bloomington. She’s also leading one of 16 projects that will receive a portion of the $50 million IU has committed to prevent, reduce and treat addictions in Indiana.
The initiative, dubbed Responding to the Addictions Crisis, was announced in October at the Indiana Statehouse. IU and IU Health officials provided a broad overview, but few specifics, at the time. The public got a clearer picture when IU announced what it called the initiative’s phase one projects earlier this month. Meyerson’s PharmNet project was one of them.
Her work is focused on ways to increase access to public health services. After the 2015 HIV outbreak in Scott County, she started surveying pharmacists. That’s when she found the naloxone figures. She also found a similar story with syringes; about half the state’s pharmacies stocked them and only about a quarter dispensed them. Most pharmacists surveyed understood syringes could help slow the spread of HIV between intravenous drug users, but they were uncomfortable selling them.
That’s a problem, because pharmacies play an important role in the health of a community, especially in rural areas where they may be the only health care facility for miles. Meyerson wants to turn that weakness into a strength.
“Pharmacists are good at patient interaction, they’re good at screening and they can be a referral point,” she said.
Working with pharmacies in low-resource, high-need communities can have a big impact. If pharmacists become more comfortable dispensing syringes and naloxone, they can prevent the spread of disease and save lives. They can help prevent addiction by incorporating elements of opioid use screening when people fill prescriptions.