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PHE: Pharmacists can help ‘spot signs’ of prescription drug dependence

Community pharmacists could spot and flag concerns with a patient’s GP if they suspect dependence on prescription medicines, a Public Health England (PHE) official has suggested.

Community pharmacists could help spot patients who are addicted to prescription medications, but might need “training” on signs to look for and respond to them, Steve Taylor said at a Westminster Health Forum policy event on prescribed medicines dependence last week (October 8).

Mr Taylor, who was responding to a question from C+D about the role of pharmacists in tackling overprescribing, agreed that pharmacy teams “are often the ones who see patients first-hand and can identify problems”.

However, it could  be a “sensitive matter” to broach with the patient’s GP, as the prescriber may think they are “doing the right thing”, added Mr Taylor, who is programme manager for health improvement – alcohol, drugs, tobacco and justice – at PHE.

A 2019 PHE review into dependence and withdrawal linked to certain prescription medicines also outlined recommendations for community pharmacists to develop their ability to "identify, assess and respond to” signs of drug dependence. The review encouraged pharmacists to inform themselves about the needs of patients who are dependent on certain drugs or in withdrawal.

Last week’s online event featured speakers and panelists from multiple bodies with expertise on prescription medicine dependence, including National Pharmacy Association policy manager Helga Mangion.

Ms Mangion said she would “like to put the case” that community pharmacy teams are “ideally placed to support patients, not only [with]  their dependence on prescribed medicines but also in their treatment and improving mental wellbeing”.

“Community pharmacists are also trained to offer targeted support, lifestyle advice and personal advice,” she added.

As well as providing direct support through one-to-one interaction with patients, pharmacy teams could also provide “indirect support through the development of clinical guidelines and deprescribing policy”, Ms Mangion argued.

Have you spotted a patient who has been struggling with prescription drug dependence?

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