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ALEXANDRIA, Va. —Vulnerable patients, including seniors and cancer patients, suffer from lack of access to needed painkillers as efforts to combat diversion and misuse of controlled substances often result in drugs not getting into the hands of those who need them, according to a new pharmacist survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association.
The NCPA surveyed more than 1,000 pharmacists, finding that some of the most vulnerable patients struggle to obtain medications prescribed to alleviate pain, and surprise disruptions in the supply chain can make it impossible for many pharmacists to assure patients their prescriptions for controlled substances will be filled the following month.
About three-quarters of respondents experienced three or more delays caused by stopped shipments of their orders for drugs over the past eight months, with 55 patients per pharmacy affected. Meanwhile, 89% of pharmacies received no advanced notice of the delay and found out only when their order arrived and did not contain the controlled substances they had ordered, with 60% saying delays in receiving the medications lasted at least one week.
"Vulnerable patients are increasingly and tragically becoming collateral damage in the country's battle against the abuse of prescription drugs, particularly narcotic painkillers," NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey said. "In the survey, community pharmacists cited having their supplies or shipments of controlled substances abruptly shut off by their wholesalers, which may have done so due to perceived pressure, intimidation or a lack of clear guidance from law enforcement officials such as the Drug Enforcement Administration."
Most respondents reported having to turn away patients and refer them to competitors. In response, the NCPA has advocated such efforts as electronic prescription drug monitoring programs and tracking systems, more effective education of prescribers, shutting down rogue pain clinics and offering more disposal options for excess medications and more scrutiny of controlled substances delivered by mail-order pharmacies.
"It's a shame to watch an arthritic 85-year-old do without," one pharmacist wrote in an open-ended section of the survey. "We try to scrutinize all controlled substance prescriptions but are made to feel like criminals when trying to service our patients," wrote another.