Do pharmacists have a problem talking about the opioid crisis?
By Richard Kelch
Richard Kelch, founder of Northgate Pharmacy in Sarnia, Ont.
Earlier, in the winter, a few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation to a group of peers that centred on breaking down barriers surrounding naloxone.
It was to be my first time presenting to a group of professional peers so I was quite nervous, to be honest, and, not wanting to look foolish, I set about making sure that I had as many facts and figures as I could find. Full disclosure here, I had dispensed my fair share of Naloxone to my clients, but I’d always had this nagging doubt when I would start a conversation with someone about this potentially life-saving tool.
Armed with the fear of looking foolish I set out to figure out just why, when there is an opioid overdose death every 10 hours in Ontario alone and there is an opioid prescription filled almost every second of an average working day, there are so few people having conversations with us about obtaining naloxone.
Along the way of researching for my session I rediscovered the fact that pharmacists are still viewed as one of the most trusted professionals in society; people want to listen to what we have to say! I also found that in focus groups of pharmacists, there is either a belief that the opioid issue doesn’t affect their communities or that there is a profound discomfort in initiating a talk with a patient about obtaining naloxone.
So, I challenged myself to pursue the conversations that need to happen. Armed with the knowledge that people trust us, I took a hard look at profiles of patients who are higher risk of overdose and I simply asked if I could talk to them about naloxone because I felt it is important for their safety. I was overwhelmed at how receptive people could be; they told me stories of family members and acquaintances who could have used this information. Some were skeptical of course, but never has anyone been offended or angry. If anything, I have been overwhelmed by the sense of relief from patients that someone is looking out for them.
It hit me that what I had thought of as being a difficult topic to broach was actually so simple once I stopped letting my own discomfort get in the way. Patients want to have these conversations with us, maybe it’s time that we overcome our own barriers to talking about difficult topics and treat them like the matter-of-fact issues that they are.
Richard Kelch is an award-winning community pharmacist who graduated from the University of Toronto in 1989 and founded Northgate Pharmacy in Sarnia in 2007. Since opening, the pharmacy has grown to encompass appointment-based dispensing, travel medicine and managed weight loss, among other traditional services.