Penn. Pharmacies Supply Opioid Prescriptions with Addiction Resource Cards
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
Apr. 3—Prescription opioid drugs don't come with a warning label. They also don't include a list of local resources if patients find themselves hooked on the highly addictive medicine or worse, face a fatal overdose.
A graduate student from Old Forge has a simple solution—small, bright blue information cards included with every opioid prescription, drugstore syringe package, and naloxone dose to help patients find immediate and long-term help.
To start, Michael Arcangeletti printed 1,000 of the cards that pharmacists can slip in with prescriptions such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. He wants to see them included with syringe needles, for sale at pharmacies but sometimes used to shoot heroin, and on board with ambulance crews that administer naloxone, an emergency drug also known as Narcan that counters the effects of an opioid overdose.
Arcangeletti, 35, who studies social work at Marywood University, lists in green and white text phone numbers and websites for medical providers and organizations that help people facing addiction. The cards also list drop-off locations where people can safely discard unused medication, such as the state police Dunmore barracks and the Lackawanna County Sheriff's Department.
"I just look at this as another means to throw a resource at this problem," said Arcangeletti.
His initiative, part of a school community impact project, is personal. He is an addict in recovery, clean for almost a decade.
He said he first got hooked on OxyContin then switched to heroin when his prescription dried up—a path many addicts take.
"Patients sometimes do not realize just how dependent they have become on certain medications," said pharmacist Michael Ruane, adding that often family members and friends notice addiction before the patient does, so the resource card is just as important for them.
At his family's pharmacy, the Prescription Center on Adams Avenue in Scranton, a stack sat on the counter near pharmacy technicians who worked at a brisk pace. The Prescription Center is one of a number of local pharmacies now using them. Arcangeletti wants the idea spread to national drug store chains.
It comes as a national opioid addiction epidemic worsens. The pharmacy counter increasingly has become an essential checkpoint for a person's first contact with prescription painkillers.
Lackawanna County had Pennsylvania's second-highest opioid prescription rate per capita in 2015—112 prescriptions per 100 residents, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fayette County had the highest with 129 prescriptions per 100 residents.
"It doesn't have to be an abuse situation," said pharmacist Eric Pusey of Medicap Pharmacy in Olyphant who is among those to adopt the insert. "It could be a normal situation where a patient forgets or may take two or innocently do something that puts them in an overdose situation."
Pennsylvania Ambulance provides emergency naloxone kits to agencies and organizations around Lackawanna County, including police and fire departments. Operations Manager Bruce Beauvais said those kits gave first responders no additional information to help overdose victims after they are revived with naloxone, so he's using the cards, too.
"If it (naloxone) does get used, now we have something to say, 'Here's multiple places where you can get help,' " he said.
Marty Henehan, a Scranton activist fighting the addiction epidemic and co-founder of the Forever Sammi Foundation, put his number and website on the card.
Henehan, a recovering addict whose daughter, Samantha, fatally overdosed in 2016, works in the local recovery community. He's been helping Arcangeletti bring more pharmacies on board with the insert cards.
Addicts often reach a moment of clarity when they are alone and about to use drugs, he said.
"There were many times in my addiction I would be reaching for that pill bottle, and, as I was turning the pill bottle, about to dump it in my hand, I was literally thinking to myself, this is no way to live," he said.
At that low point, wallowing in the depths of their addiction, a phone number close at hand could make all the difference, he said.
"The hope is that as they reach for that pill bottle, they see that leaflet and say, 'Maybe these guys have an answer for me,'" he said.