Every year, an estimated 18 million Americans abuse prescription drugs. From swallowing a friend’s prescription painkiller to overdosing on opioids, prescription drug abuse runs rampant in the United States.

In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency on the ongoing opioid crisis. The declaration highlighted the abuse of street drugs as well as popular prescription drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. From then on, the problem became more apparent than ever before.

Prescription drug abuse is relevant to all medical professionals, but it has particular importance for pharmacists. Pharmacists don’t write prescriptions for opioids, depressants, and stimulants, but they do dispense them. Thus, they have a responsibility to address prescription drug abuse and protect the people around them.

Is your pharmacy ready to rise to the occasion?

How to Prepare Your Next Move

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) outlines specific strategies pharmacies can take to prevent, educate, and assist patients in cases of prescription drug abuse. The strategies are as follows:


  1. Develop internal prescription drug abuse prevention and assistance programs
  2. Participate in public prescription drug abuse prevention and assistance programs
  3. Work with local, state, and federal authorities to create new programs
  4. Work with medical laboratories to identify potential drugs of abuse
  5. Discourage prescribing practices that enable or foster prescription drug abuse
  6. Collaborate with outpatient providers to prevent drug abuse after discharge


  1. Provide patients with information and access to support groups
  2. Provide recommendations about the appropriate use of mood-altering substances to healthcare providers, patients, and the public
  3. Foster the development of undergraduate and graduate college of pharmacy curricula on prescription drug abuse prevention, education, and assistance
  4. Provide education to fellow pharmacists
  5. Instruct drug abuse counselors about the pharmacology of particular medications
  6. Maintain professional competency through continuing education programs
  7. Provide training in addictions, pain management, and palliative care
  8. Educate patients about the correct storage, handling, and disposal of prescription medications


  1. Assist in the identification of patients, coworkers, and other individuals who may be struggling with prescription drug abuse
  2. Participate in multidisciplinary efforts to support patients in recovery
  3. Support and encourage healthcare professionals in recovery
  4. Collaborate with other healthcare providers in developing drug detoxifying protocols
  5. Maintain knowledge of professional support groups
  6. Maintain a zero-tolerance policy for staff drug abuse

To learn more about protocols for prescription drug abuse — and substance abuse in general — view ASHP’s Statement on the Pharmacist’s Role in Substance Abuse Prevention, Education, and Assistance.

The Technology to Back You Up

As you brainstorm new ways to tackle prescription drug abuse, you need to find the tools to help you do it. Each of the aforementioned strategies can be implemented in your pharmacy, but only with the right technology to track information, monitor prescriptions, and record patient outcomes.

In this effort, you can rely on your pharmacy software system. Depending on the vendor you use, you can get access to a number of features designed to create and maintain your own drug abuse prevention program.

Most vendors offer basic capabilities, like eCare Plan integration, that let you monitor a patient’s progress on a particular prescription drug. However, some systems offer tools that specifically address prescription drug use.

If you want to curb abuse in your community, you should invest in these systems. Rather than monitoring prescription history on an eCare Plan, they may integrate with prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) to help you spot signs of abuse early on. Instead of manually searching your state’s PMP website, you can access all PMP submissions from within your software.

With this information, you can make important decisions about prescribing, communicate with other providers, and counsel patients — all without wasting valuable time searching yourself.

In addition, you may be able to set up internal notifications that flag you of past abuse in patients. For a more holistic approach, you may even be able to set up flags for dispensing any opioid, stimulant, or depressant. These flags can remind you to look up PMP information and carry out any protocols your pharmacy decides to put in place.

As an extra measure, you may be able to create custom forms and reports to better track prescription drug use in your pharmacy and examine trends over time.

By taking these steps, you can be sure that you carry out the appropriate measures to prevent, educate, and assist patients when they need it most.


In the midst of the growing prescription drug crisis, pharmacists can take the right steps and use the right tools to keep patients safe from drug-related dangers.

To get started, find out what your pharmacy software system has to offer by scheduling a demo and learning more about each of the available features. Then, when you make the right pick, begin to implement the best steps to stop abuse in your area.

Prescription drug abuse may be rising all around us, but pharmacies have the tools they need to fight back.