Jon Agley

IU researcher looking at how pharmacists can play a role in reducing overdose death among opioid users

Addressing the opioid epidemic has demonstrated the need for professionals across the board to work together. That includes doctors, lawmakers, educators, those in the criminal justice system and community workers. But the role of pharmacists in prevention and harm reduction is one that has not been at the forefront of discussion.

Jon Agley, deputy director of the Institute for Research on Addictive Behavior, is looking at how pharmacists can play a role in reducing overdose death among opioid users and the incidence of HIV/HCV among people who inject drugs by increasing addictions screening, dispensing naloxone and syringes, and providing referral to treatment.

Agley is working with Beth Meyerson, former co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at IU and currently a research professor at the University of Arizona, a partner on the project.

Agley and his team are working to develop PharmNet, a pharmacy practice intervention aimed at strengthening the public health safety net for opioid addiction, screening, overdose prevention and related primary care.

The intervention works two ways, first providing early identification of people at risk for, or likely living with, opioid addiction and referring them for treatment through a developed county-level network of care. Secondly, PharmNet increases naloxone and sterile syringe dispensing to people who inject drugs.

The first phase of Agley’s project involved surveying Indiana pharmacists throughout the state and interviewing Indiana residents who are injection drug users. Early results have shown that Indiana pharmacists, and likely community pharmacists elsewhere, cannot implement a Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment, known as SBIRT, adapted intervention such as PharmNet due to structural issues in the pharmacy. Those issues include staffing, work flow, issues created by overprescribers and the evolution of pharmacies to “drive through” dispensing organizations.

Based on that data, the team is developing a tailored PharmNet intervention that will address these issues and make it feasible and attainable for pharmacists to implement. They will then pilot the intervention. The team is also working to develop a web-based network of supporting professionals at county and state levels to share data that can help advance public health policy.