Atlanta—Compared to other healthcare professionals, pharmacists are the most concerned about prescription drug abuse in their communities, according to a new study that notes many have changed dispensing practices related to the crisis.

The report, published recently in the journal Pain Physician, finds that 89.5% of the pharmacists surveyed said they were “extremely” or “moderately concerned,” compared to 85% of nurse practitioners/physician assistants (NPs/PAs) and 83.8% of physicians. While 73.1% of dentists said they shared that concern, a percentage higher than the other healthcare providers—26.9%—said they were only “slightly concerned” or “not concerned at all.”

The survey was conducted as part of Georgia State University–led research to determine if clinicians’ increasing level of concern about prescription drug abuse in their communities could be an effective public health tool in fighting the epidemic.

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly 6,000 doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, and pharmacists in Indiana about their views and practices related to addictive prescription drugs.

“Our research suggests that a number of healthcare providers already have voluntarily begun to change their prescribing and dispensing practices in ways that may be reducing the supply of scheduled prescriptions in communities,” study authors write.

The article notes that, across the professions, providers most likely to be concerned were female, older, more likely to be Caucasian, practiced in more rural settings, and worked in counties with higher rates of per capita dispensation of scheduled prescriptions.

The overwhelming majority of the physicians, NPs/PAs, and dentists reported prescribing controlled substances in the past 12 months—86.3%, 90.8%, and 91.8%, respectively—and, as a group, only a minority indicated they had changed their prescribing practices over the last year.

Yet, nearly half (47.2%) of the NPs/PAs said they had made a change, compared to about a third (35.8%) of the physicians and even fewer dentists (19.7%). Among pharmacists, meanwhile, about a third said they had changed their dispensing practices, with 83.5% reporting they dispensed fewer scheduled prescriptions over the last year.

“This research underscores the critical importance of engaging health care providers fully in public health efforts to reverse the course of the prescription drug epidemic,” the report concludes.

“The findings from this study suggest that more work can be done to encourage healthcare providers to take action to support public health efforts to reduce the scourge of prescription drug abuse in communities across the nation,” study authors point out. “While the majority of providers surveyed indicate they are concerned, significant pockets of healthcare professionals who are relatively unconcerned remain.

Increasing providers’ concern about the community impact of prescription drug abuse also appears to be an important factor in motivating them to take voluntary action to reduce the availability of scheduled prescription medications in the community.”

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