• Article
  • May 03 2023

UK College of Pharmacy receives funding to increase access to lifesaving treatment for opioid use disorder

(Left to right:) Doug Oyler, Adrienne Matson, Trish Rippetoe Freeman, Laura Stinson, Monica Roberts, Dustin Miracle. Photo provided.

The Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) has selected the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy as one of three higher education entities funded to improve access to medications for opioid use disorder in pharmacies and health care settings.

Rural Appalachian communities in Kentucky have been highly impacted by substance use disorder and opioid overdose deaths. Buprenorphine is a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication that has been shown to decrease overdose mortality, increase remission and recovery, and improve quality of life for people with opioid use disorder. Yet, a study found that most pharmacies in 12 rural Appalachian counties were limiting their dispensing of buprenorphine or not dispensing it at all.

The College of Pharmacy has been awarded nearly half a million dollars to develop and test a peer-to-peer education program for pharmacists to increase buprenorphine dispensing. The project, led by Trish Rippetoe Freeman, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy practice and science, aims to equip pharmacists with the information and understanding of buprenorphine treatment, guidelines, and regulations to feel confident dispensing medication for opioid use disorder. Through the project’s educational outreach and relationship-building, the College of Pharmacy will support Kentucky pharmacists' crucial work to serve their communities and help save lives.       

Over the course of two years, Freeman's team of pharmacists will focus on developing educational materials and visiting rural Appalachian pharmacies to mitigate dispensing barriers. The project will prioritize 20 Kentucky counties, including areas with both low and high buprenorphine dispensing rates relative to opioid overdose deaths. The team will conduct focus groups to identify facilitators and barriers to buprenorphine dispensing. This information will be used to develop tailored education for pharmacists and technicians.

Pharmacists will deliver the education in person in the 20 priority counties in Appalachia, visiting community pharmacies in a series of brief encounters to discuss general information about buprenorphine and specific dispensing challenges at each pharmacy. To broaden the project’s reach and increase its impact, the team will develop webinars and educational materials that can be disseminated statewide. The ultimate goal is to create a framework to modify pharmacist behavior and increase access to buprenorphine.

“There are many barriers to buprenorphine access for patients being treated for opioid use disorder, including stigma, federal and state regulations, and general lack of understanding on appropriate drug dispensing,” said Freeman. “We are partnering with the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy to ensure that all pharmacists have the information and understanding they need to feel confident in dispensing this lifesaving treatment to patients."

As a private national grant-making foundation, FORE supports innovative, evidence-based solutions to the opioid crisis at national, state and community levels. Their mission is to bring about long-term change by funding diverse projects that impact people experiencing opioid use disorder, their families and their communities. By partnering with organizations like FORE, the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy is helping to create a better future for the Commonwealth and those affected by the opioid epidemic.