Ontario continues to see the devastating effects of the opioid crisis, which has been heightened by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ontario experienced a significant rise in opioid-related deaths in 2020 versus 2019 as community support services and safe consumption sites closed and harm reduction approaches that included not using drugs alone had to be abandoned during stay-at-home orders.
With the aim of harm reduction and minimizing opioid-related overdoses and deaths, there has been a growing interest in exploring emerging or alternative means of treating and supporting those who use opioids. One of these evolving clinical practices is providing a safe drug supply using pharmaceutical medications to respond to the needs of some patients and to offer an alternative to the increasingly toxic street supply of illicit opioids.
As medication experts, pharmacists are in a unique position to support the appropriate use and access to narcotics and other controlled drugs. Pharmacists are also in a position to engage and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to enhance patient safety.
An Opioid Strategy for Pharmacy
The College continues to monitor the impact of public health measures on the ability of Ontarians to access the medications they need, and is committed to supporting and complementing action by provincial and federal governments and other health system stakeholders to reduce opioid-related harms.
The College’s opioid strategy for pharmacy aligns with national and provincial opioid-related goals of preventing overdose and addiction, and considers the social factors that are related to problematic opioid use.
Key Considerations for Safe Supply Opioid Dispensing
If considering safe supply opioid prescribing, registrants are reminded of their professional expectations to:
As always, pharmacy professionals are expected to use their knowledge, skills and judgement and take into account the individual needs of each patient when dispensing medication. Pharmacy professionals must also assess the authenticity of the prescription and the appropriateness of the prescription for the patient.
Optimal patient care cannot be achieved in a vacuum – pharmacists are expected to collaborate with other healthcare professionals when providing care and to communicate effectively. Collaborating with the prescribing practitioner is an effective way of supporting safe, quality patient care and is particularly important for prescriptions for controlled substances as outlined in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, 1996.
Only by practicing within the limits of clinical competence, demonstrating sound clinical judgment, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals/peers can pharmacy professionals best support their patients through safe supply opioid dispensing.