Auburn’s pharmacy school looking to train community to combat opioid epidemic

Published: February 20, 2018
Font Size

Article body

Addiction to opioids is an epidemic in the United States with people abusing both prescription and illegal drugs. The problem is growing in the state of Alabama and a group within Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is working to combat the problem through education and preparation.

Led by Dr. Kimberly Braxton-Lloyd, assistant dean in the school’s Department of Pharmacy Health Services, she and her team are rolling out the Naloxone Rapid Response Program. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is an opioid overdose reversal medication. The program centers on training and education in the use of naloxone, as well as general awareness of the perils of opioid use.

“The Auburn pharmacy faculty and students are working to be proactive, and prepare the Auburn community to react and respond if and when the United States opioid epidemic extends to the Auburn community,” said Braxton-Lloyd. “We want to increase awareness and preparedness among our students, faculty, advisors and first responders, so we can act quickly and decisively in emergencies and potentially save lives.”

The Naloxone Rapid Response Program began last fall with representatives from the Harrison School of Pharmacy collaborating with City of Auburn’s Department of Public Safety, including police and firefighters, to equip the first responders with naloxone. Braxton-Lloyd and her team of pharmacists and residents provided training seminars for all first responders. All were equipped with naloxone and trained by the end of 2017. The Alabama Department of Public Health assisted in providing a limited supply of naloxone for the initial training of the first responders.

While having naloxone available is an important component to saving the life of someone experiencing an overdose, the program also focuses on training and education. To grow and expand the program, Braxton-Lloyd is using Auburn University’s Tiger Giving Day on Feb. 21 to raise money for more training and education opportunities.

“We would like to continue to expand this program to further educate and equip others who may be in a position to respond during an opioid overdose,” said Braxton-Lloyd. “We believe the more people who are trained and equipped throughout campus the more likely it will be that we are prepared when an overdose situation does occur on our campus.”

Money raised through the program will be used to conduct more training sessions with those in areas of need in the community, along with educational materials such as posters and brochures.

“With the alarming statistics of unintended overdoses around the country, we want to ensure that our first responders are properly training and equipped,” said Braxton-Lloyd. “Through this program, we hope to prevent needless deaths and save a life.”

The numbers in Alabama are jarring with the state leading the country in opioid prescribing with an estimated 96 to 142 prescriptions per 100 people per year. In 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey established the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council to study the problem in Alabama and how to combat it.

What compounds the opioid prescription problem is that when individuals have trouble obtaining or paying for prescription medications, they often switch to heroin, which is cheaper and easily accessible through illegal channels. Some heroin is now being laced with a high-potency fentanyl or other drugs that can increase the risk of using heroin and can easily be lethal.

For these reasons, there is no typical opioid abuser. People of all backgrounds and socio-economic statuses are prescribed legal opioids every day and misuse or abuse can lead to addiction.

“There is no predictable stereotype of the person who abuses prescription drugs or uses street drugs like heroin,” said Dr. Greg Peden, director of Community Pharmacy Services with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “It might be your neighbor or the star athlete on the team. It might be the rising scholar or your child’s best friend. You cannot look at someone and tell that they are at risk.”