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Reflections from CSHP Alberta Branch Symposium panel

October 25, 2017
Opioid Crisis: Stories from the Trenches – October 13, 2017

The ongoing opioid crisis impacts Albertans at all levels – from patients, to families, to healthcare professionals.

At the CSHP Alberta Branch Symposium opioid panel, held October 13 in Edmonton, pharmacist and pharmacy technician attendees heard personal reflections and stories from their peers, as well as a member of the public.

ACP President Brad Couldwell, pharmacist Brett Baumback, and pharmacy technician Laura Miskimins shared their experiences, alongside Edmonton paramedic Brian Boswell, and Rosalind Davis who lost her partner to the crisis in 2016.

Edmonton paramedic Brian Boswell was one of the first speakers of the night, and shared a story from one particular December night in his career where he stepped over the threshold into a south Edmonton home, and remembered thinking to himself, “This is kind of like my house.”

He explained, “The home was well-lit. There was a trike for a small child…a paint brush…a toy.”

As a paramedic, Brian is intimately familiar with the crisis, and knows that opioid overdoses don’t just occur in urban cores. But the memory of the unconscious young woman laying blue on her kitchen floor still sticks out. The house could have been anyone’s. The woman was revived, but, like many calls he receives, every minute counts.

“In a couple more minutes, she might not have had a pulse,” he recounted to the crowd.

Rosalind’s partner Nathan did not survive, but she shares her story in the hopes it can make a difference in somebody else’s life.

“Looking back at who he was, he was the last person I ever would’ve expected to develop a substance use disorder,” Rosalind said. Nathan was a stockbroker, studied philosophy, and had his MBA. “I think sometimes it’s incredibly easy to disconnect from the statistics, and sometimes the face, and the story. Nathan touched the health system six distinct times. And I believe that each one of those encounters was an opportunity to engage him in proper medical treatment.”

Maintaining compassion and engagement with patients were important themes stressed among all the panelists. In fact, engagement is one of the six themes in the Vision for the Future of a Healthy Alberta document, created in collaboration with CSHP Alberta, the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association (RxA), and the Pharmacy Technician Society of Alberta (PTSA) which outline our joint vision for pharmacy practice over the next 10 years.

ACP President Brad Couldwell shared his experience as a pharmacist and as a council member. He said one of the best thing you can do is to engage with your patients – an important aspect in ACP’s new opioid guidelineswhich recently took effect October 1, 2017.

“It means really getting to know your patients so that you can be comfortable asking the tough questions. Pharmacists are in a unique position to assess, recommend, and collaborate every time a person receives an opioid. This is a very cornerstone of our profession,” he said.

Finally, pharmacist Brett and pharmacy technician Laura both acknowledged how engaging patients regarding opioids can sometimes be challenging, and shared what has worked for them.

“It’s awkward – so is proper technique for suppository use. Some conversations need to be,” said Brett who stressed respect, dignity, and compassion.

In Laura’s experience as a pharmacy technician, she says the connection she forged with her pharmacy’s methadone patients helped remind her that it is up to healthcare professionals to do their part to make the system more friendly and forgiving.

“They need our compassion. They need us to remember that this moment in time is not them at their best, but maybe with some support and help, we can get them where they need to be.”

Originally published in the October 25, 2017, issue of The Link