Insights - Article

Telepharmacy Helps Fight the Opioid Epidemic

By Chris Ciolko, RPh  • September 23, 2016


As we’ve been hearing in the media, the number of drug overdose deaths from opioid addiction has skyrocketed. Many patients become addicted to these medications through legal means, such as receiving a prescription after surgery, or for common issues like lower back pain. However, patients sometimes don’t take the drugs as recommended.  Other times they receive too high a dosage. And still others may take painkillers long-term for chronic pain rather than acute pain, then build up a tolerance.

Extending Pharmacy Support to Help Control Drugs

Opioid abuse rates are highest in areas where residents often don’t have sufficient access to healthcare or pharmacies.  By providing cost-effective approaches that increase pharmacist participation, telepharmacy solutions can be instrumental in helping to slow this worsening epidemic.

First, remote telepharmacy services can be used to reach patients with limited access to pharmacy support or expertise, at a lower cost than adding staff.  Second, by using advanced technologies with better decision support and real-time reporting capabilities, hospital pharmacists — whether on-site or remote — can better monitor medication orders for potential interventions or suspicious prescribing trends.

Freeing up On-site Pharmacists to Help Combat Addiction

Perhaps more important is that optimizing the medication order review process frees up on-site pharmacists to participate more fully in patient care activities, such as:

  • Helping hospital staff set guidelines for prescribing opioids
  • Counseling patients on medication at discharge
  • Assisting with the types of drugs to administer when overdosed patients are brought to the hospital
  • Setting plans of action for babies born addicted to painkillers
  • Providing drug education tools and resources to aid rural hospital staff

Legislative Efforts Support Telepharmacy

Recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced$53 million in funding to improve data collection and analysis of the opioid epidemic. These new grants from the HHS enable providers to explore the potential of telepharmacy services and technology.

With growing support from patients, providers, and payers, telehealth companies are answering the call to develop services that can be applied to combat this public health crisis. Together, these new approaches and support provide significant opportunities for hospitals to help prevent addiction and overdose deaths in the near term, and to create programs designed to reduce the harm of opioids more broadly in the long term.

Chris Ciolko, RPh, is SVP of Business Development and co-founder of PipelineRx.  She has spent her entire career focused on pharmacy services and increasing the efficiency of healthcare service delivery, including positions with companies such as RPh-on-the-Go, Cardinal Health, Baxter Healthcare, Eli Lilly and V. Mueller.