Opioid Strategy FAQs

Why is it important to have a strategy specifically addressing pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians?

Ontario is facing a serious public health and safety issue related to opioid substance use disorder. As the regulator of pharmacy in Ontario, putting patients first has been and will always be our number one goal. We recognize that no single initiative will “fix” Ontario’s opioid-related issues. The College is committed to aligning with national and provincial opioid-related goals.

We know that, as healthcare professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have an important role to play in responding to serious public health issues affecting our patients, communities and the province at large. The College believes that the profession of pharmacy can help with improving opioid-related care for patients, encouraging harm reduction, preventing overdose and addiction, and ensuring quality oversight of the provision of narcotics and controlled drugs to patients and proper destruction of any unused medications.

What can individual pharmacy professionals do when there are many different causes of this crisis?

There are many complex health, social and system factors that have contributed to this current crisis. However, opioid misuse is the third leading cause of accidental death in Ontario and opioid related causes of death continue to increase each year. This is a public health crisis that requires action on all fronts.

As medication experts, pharmacists are in a unique role to support the appropriate use and access to narcotic and other controlled drugs. They are also in a position to engage in collaboration with other health care professionals to enhance patient safety. Additionally, pharmacy professionals are often the most accessible healthcare providers for patients and so may have opportunities to develop and identify best practices and provide additional support and education around opioid issues.

What kinds of initiatives will be part of this strategy?

The opioid strategy has identified four strategic priorities:

  1. Education for Pharmacy Professionals Regarding Opioid Related Issues
  2. Opioid Dependence Treatment and Harm Reduction
  3. Prevention of Overdose and Addiction
  4. Quality Assurance of Practice
Each strategic priority is supported by five strategic areas of focus that will guide initiatives under each priority:
  1. Practice Tools and Resources
  2. Scope of Practice
  3. Best Practice Evidence
  4. Data
  5. Collaboration

Some examples of initiatives under the strategy include:

  • Identifying and collaborating on the development of a morphine equivalent dosing (MED) tool
  • Increasing access to naloxone (in pharmacies) for high risk opioid use patients
  • Enabling pharmacist adaptation of controlled substances to support tapering of opioids and targeted substances
  • Initiating collaboration among healthcare providers to address management of opioids in hospital operating rooms and emergency departments

What other specific action is the College taking under this strategy?

With the approval of the Opioid Strategy, the College is now in a position to begin the development and implementation of specific initiatives under the strategic priorities. Some of these initiatives may take time to implement, depending on the need for changes in legislation, regulation or bylaws. We look forward to providing more information in the coming months. Additionally, other initiatives will be identified as new information becomes available and additional needs are identified.

What has the College already done to support pharmacy professionals in appropriate opioid and narcotic use?

We have focused on ensuring pharmacy professionals have access to educational resources to help them provide the best possible care for their patients. These include:

  • Enhancing our existing narcotic practice tools and resources
  • Creating an opioid practice tool as a hub for relevant resources
  • Educating pharmacy professionals of their obligations related to opioid and narcotic security (e.g. Patch for Patch program)
  • Providing guidance on the dispensing of naloxone
  • Making pharmacy professionals aware of external resources on best opioid prescribing and dispensing practices
  • Encouraging interprofessional collaboration between prescribers and dispensers

Through pharmacy and practice assessments that take place at the pharmacy, College practice advisors are able to provide education regarding security of narcotics and controlled drugs as well as focus on appropriate pharmacist assessment, decision making, documentation and patient communication in relation to dispensing these drugs. Additionally, practice consultants provide support and resources to pharmacy professionals who contact the College with specific questions.

Will the College use NMS data to address opioid-related practice?

Education is a key focus of our Opioid Strategy. The NMS will serve as an important resource to help the College better understand practice behaviours with the primary goal of identifying areas for further teaching/coaching and collaborating with pharmacy professionals in preventing opioid misuse and/or abuse.

Narcotic dispensing that is neither legitimate nor appropriate should be a cause of concern for everyone and would be something that we take very seriously. Therefore, we will be using the NMS data to alert us of high risk dispensing to further investigate and identify whether additional action is required.