Dec. 20, 2017 | On a Sunday morning in a UAMS auditorium, John Kirtley, Pharm.D., engaged his audience in a brief call-and-response dialogue.
“How many hydrocodone pills were dispensed in Arkansas last year?” Kirtley asked. Scattered voices called out guesses.
Kirtley told them the total: It was 108 million, and another 49 million oxycodone pills also were dispensed in 2016 in Arkansas.
Those totals further translate into about 114.6 prescriptions per 100 people and an average number of 60-75 pills per prescription, he said.
Kirtley is the executive director of the Arkansas Board of Pharmacy and was one of several speakers who made presentations Dec. 9 at the Pharmacy Update at UAMS. More than 100 pharmacists, physicians, physician assistants and nurses attended the one-day conference, and presenters from all of these professions were among the speakers.
Kirtley completed his pre-pharmacy coursework at Ouachita Baptist University and graduated from UAMS with his doctor of pharmacy.
“With the opioid problem, we see today we know that we have 350 deaths a year in Arkansas,” Kirtley said. “Prescription drugs are the only things that are worth more money once they are in the illegal market. When you have people who steal drugs from pharmacies, it means massive profits for them, way more than pharmacists pay.”
That profit has served as an incentive for thefts and leaking prescription opiates into the illegal market.
“We keep trying to do a better job of helping people not lose drugs in their pharmacies,” Kirtley said. “We tell people how to keep an eye on it and give them loss prevention tools. You have to report losses to figure out what is missing.”
Opioids legally prescribed for legitimate uses by patients sometimes are taken by family members or friends in the home who then abuse them.
To stem the flow of prescription drugs into the illegal drug market, including opioid drugs, the Arkansas Board of Pharmacy along with several community partners in law enforcement and health care has organized drug takeback events in which consumers can dispose of unused or expired medications.
From January through October 2017, Take Back Day events across Arkansas have collected 28,035 pounds of prescription drugs, Kirtley said.
Kirtley recalled that at one recent central Arkansas Take Back event, a woman walked up with a 13-gallon trash bag full of medications. Right on her heels was a second woman with the same-size bulging with pill bottles.
“We have the number two prescription rate for opioids in the country,” he said. “We’re right behind Alabama.”
Kirtley also briefed pharmacists and others in the audience about recent state legislative and regulatory changes that affect pharmacy practice, ranging from Act 139, which allows the Board of Pharmacy and other state regulatory boards to look into sealed court records when doing background checks for licensure, to new rules governing emergency prescriptions.
Other speakers at the Pharmacy Update presented information about immunizations, medical marijuana, medication safety, pain assessment, medications like Naloxone to counteract opiate overdoses and over prescribing.