Editorial: Community pharmacists are trained and ready to help in times of crisis.

By Louis Lozzi, PharmD '19, Temple University School of Pharmacy

Prepared to step in

While taking the Pharmacists' Oath at the Temple University School of Pharmacy (TUSP) 2015 White Coat Ceremony,  I thought to myself that, through pharmacy, I wanted to be a protector of my community now and forever moving forward. Since that day, I have developed skills to help me achieve my goal. I have learned how to identify major medical crises, such as anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest, and overdose, and how to administer lifesaving medications. 

Recently, while working at the Rite Aid around the corner from where I grew up in South Philadelphia where I have been blessed to work for 12 years, I had an opportunity to realize my vision of being a community pharmacist.

Some coworkers and I were talking about the upcoming Eagles game when a customer ran back to the pharmacy area and asked for help for a man who was passed out outside. My boss and I prepared ourselves to perform CPR while heading outside together. When I approached the man to see if he was alert, I could tell from the bluish coloring in his face and shallow breathing that he was experiencing an overdose, which CPR would not affect. Instinctively, I ran back to the pharmacy and got Narcan (brand name of naloxone) off the shelf. I did not think this man was going to make it. 

When I ran back to him, I felt capable of administering the nasal spray. I got down next to him, lifted his head to my lap, and said, “I've got you,” as I plunged the spray into his nostril. 

All in a day's work

After I plunged two doses, he woke up and was able to stand on his own. When the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived, I explained the situation. To my relief, the man decided to go with the EMTs to the hospital.    

Right after the event, I did not think much about it. I went back to work for another two hours and otherwise carried on with my day. Upon reflection, I was just doing my job. 

Gratitude  

Being there at the right time to save a life is something I will always remember, but it has not changed me. This is what I knew I wanted to do. TUSP prepares people like me to be able to help in times like this, and I will be forever grateful to be a part of this profession and culture.       

As I reflect on that day, I am also grateful to Dr. Neela Bhajandas in the Temple University Hospital Emergency Department (ED) who led my emergency medicine rotation. I learned by observation - sadly, many times - how to treat an overdose. I had always kept an eye on the opioid crisis, and then it became my passion to help address it, because I knew I could. Dr. Bhajandas and all of the ED staff were patient and generous in answering my many questions on the topic. Later, I gave a presentation on Narcan and the opioid crisis in Philadelphia to TUSP faculty and students.

A Call to Action

I am proud and amazed that, over the years, community pharmacists have built up more of a clinical role for themselves. For example, community pharmacists handle medication therapy management services that help enable people to continue with effective treatments; and, they are trained to administer and provide life-saving drugs, like Narcan, and immunizations that help prevent devastating illnesses.

If ever you have the opportunity to advocate for your community pharmacist or community pharmacy in general, please take it. Contact and share your thoughts and experiences with your local government and news personnel. With more awareness and support, community pharmacists can save and improve more and more lives in your neighborhood. Working together, we have a better chance of ending the opioid crisis.