With the opioid epidemic continuing to rage on, the state of Illinois recently passed legislation to combat the rise of overdoses. In effect, Illinois’ laws can urge independent pharmacies to be more mindful of how they’re caring for patients with opioid prescriptions.

An Inside Look at the Opioid Epidemic

In 2020, 91,799 deaths occurred by way of a drug overdose, with 68,630 — nearly 75% — of those deaths involving the overuse of opioids, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In response to the rise of fatal cases, the CDC provided specific guidelines and methods for healthcare providers to both prevent overdoses and provide safer, more informed care when dealing with prescription opiates in 2016.

These guidelines not only encourage prescribers and pharmacists to be more transparent about the dangers of opioids with their patients, but they also provide specific limits and figures to follow to ensure the safe dispensing and use of these medications.

The caveat to the CDC’s recommendations is that they are exactly that: recommendations.

Since the organization has no governing or legislative authority, its suggestions can only be implemented by the states or private companies. This can result in certain pharmacies following guidelines while others do not, creating a rift between pharmacies and possibly incentivizing some patients to flock to other locations.

This is what makes Illinois’s legislation so substantial. It is a direct response — and call to action — to implement feasible change in the state.

In 2021, 3,013 deaths in the state were attributed to opioid overdose, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Compared to 2019 with a count of 2,219 deaths, opioid-related fatalities increased by 26% within two years.

IL Gov. Pritzker Signs 5 New Opioid Bills

On June 2, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed several pieces of legislation meant to prevent overdoses from prescription opioids.

“Deaths from opioid overdoses are as tragic as they are preventable,” Gov. Pritzker said. “These bills mandate the tools, resources, and compassion necessary to help Illinoisans with substance use disorders while addressing the opioid crisis head-on.”

#1: SB 2535

Effective January 1, 2023, Senate Bill 2535 requires pharmacists and prescribers to inform their patients of the addictive qualities of opioids and give them the option to receive an “opioid antagonist” such as Naloxone.

#2: SB 2565

Effective immediately, Senate Bill 2565 allows circuit courts to administer drug-court treatment programs. It also allows state attorneys to help expunge convictions for people who successfully complete these programs.

#3: HB 4408

Effective January 1, 2024, House Bill 4408 will prevent commercial insurers and Medicaid from charging patients a copay for the treatment. Because the access to these treatments has been notably restrictive and expensive, this will allow patients to adequately seek the help they need without worrying about the financial burden.

#4: HB 4556

Effective immediately, House Bill 4556 allows pharmacists to distribute fentanyl testing strips, which can detect the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs via injections, powders, and pills. The wider access to fentanyl testing strips can raise awareness of opioid overdose and its prevalence.

#5: HB 1780

House Bill 1780, cited as the “Drug Take-Back Act,” seeks to provide a safe system for collecting and disposing of unused medications. Though not specifically catered to prescription opiates, State Senator Scott Bennett voiced his support of the bill’s statewide application, hoping it becomes a step forward in preventing future overdoses.

“Creating a statewide drug take-back program provides options to safely dispose of prescription drugs as well as educate the public on the associated risks,” Bennett said.

To stay up-to-date on the latest laws in Illinois — and across the US — visit our Pharmacy Laws & Regulations page, which provides weekly updates on all the legislative action in the 50 states.

What Independent Pharmacists Can Do

Though it is ultimately left up to the pharmacist’s discretion to show whether or not they’ll follow the suggested guidelines, the uptick in deaths caused by opioid overdose reveals room for improvement in the industry.

Medications are meant to rehabilitate, alleviate, and heal. You can fulfill your part of the deal by being even more transparent and communicative to our patients about the inherent risks of taking these medications.

Patients rely on pharmacists to dispense their medications precisely and safely, being assured that the prescription they’re given is completely safe to take. Sometimes the right thing to do is to refuse to fill that prescription after detecting a concerning pattern of dependency.

Those tough, uncomfortable conversations are absolutely necessary — as long as it is done with the intent to deter an addiction from developing.

To learn more about how you can make dispensing prescription opioids as safe and transparent as possible for patients, check out this clip from our Beyond the Scripts podcast:

Managing opioids can often be challenging, but PioneerRx offers resources that can help you do it more efficiently and effectively.

Resources: PioneerRx’s Opioid Toolkit

In October 2020, PioneerRx’s pharmacy software system introduced its Opioid Toolkit containing several functionalities that help you care for opioid patients.

It provides instant access to credible resources such as the CDC, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The toolkit also gathers all opioid-specific functions of the software in a single location, making a potentially sensitive process more streamlined and manageable.

The toolkit is meant to work for both new pharmacists who are figuring out their approach to opioids and experienced pharmacists who may have already established workflows.

If you haven’t already, take advantage of these resources to make informed and confident decisions when dispensing prescription opiates. Remember that your pharmacy software is meant to work for you, not leave you stranded.

A clear mind sets you up for success, an absolute necessity when handling prescription opioids.

Moving Forward

Independent pharmacies are in a unique position regarding the dispensing of opioids.

It is ultimately up to you as to how you want to fill certain prescriptions. You can implement rules that apply to all opioid prescriptions across the board or choose to make a decision on a case-to-case basis. Multiple factors come into play, namely the demographics of your location.

Some states unfortunately have bigger opioid problems than others so it’s essential to know the ins and outs of your community.

In any community, though, you can play your part in ending the opioid epidemic.

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