Newswise — BUFFALO, N.Y. — To fight the opioid epidemic ravaging Western New York, the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SPPS) joined forces with the Erie County Department of Health and the Harm Reduction Coalition to create a naloxone dispensing education program.

The new online program will train community pharmacists on dispensing naloxone — an antidote for opioid overdose — without a prescription to individuals at risk for opioid abuse, or their friends and families.

The free course, “Dispensing naloxone via a non-patient specific prescription: the role of the community pharmacist,” became available to pharmacists practicing in New York on March 25, on the SPPS Office of Continuing Pharmacy Education website,

“This is a public health crisis,” says Gale Burstein, MD, MPH, Erie County Health Commissioner and UB clinical professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“The number of opioid related deaths in Erie County is the highest we have ever experienced and continues to grow. First responders report resuscitating overdose victims in Erie County at an alarming rate.”

Naloxone is widely carried by emergency medical professionals, such as police officers and paramedics. However, the new program aims to place the medication into the hands of people at risk for opioid overdose or those closest to them.

The training helps pharmacists comply with the requirements to dispense standing orders of naloxone to the public. These orders are issued by the Harm Reduction Coalition, a national advocacy group that promotes the health of people and communities affected by drug use, and, at a later date, the Erie County Department of Health.

“This program is a mechanism for getting the antidote out to reduce the number of deaths,” says Edward Bednarczyk, PharmD, chair of the SPPS Department of Pharmacy Practice.

“Rather than distributing the medication through police stations, schools and hospitals, pharmacies provide the community with an instant, ready-made network for distributing medicine.”

Prescription opioids — which include painkillers — are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the nation. These drugs are abused by 1.9 million Americans and cause nearly two deaths every hour from overdose or respiratory depression.

Nearly 75 percent of patients with opioid addiction switch to heroin as a cheaper alternative, according to data from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

The online course includes a video presentation, and pre- and post-test questions. Pharmacists who complete the training will receive 1.5 hours of continuing education credit toward their state licensure.

The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and is supported by the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute.

The video presentation is led by Burstein, Sharon Stancliff, MD, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, and Denise Swiatek, PharmD, SPPS adjunct assistant professor and an academic educator of the New York State Department of Health Medicaid Prescriber Education Program.