Opioid Safety in Pharmacies: Developing Online Training for Pharmacists

An online training program focused on identifying and acting on "red flags" for addiction and diversion will help pharmacists be effective partners with prescribers in the battle against opioid overuse.
April 2016

Preventing addiction and overdose deaths requires safer prescribing of opioid medications. An often overlooked but critical team player, pharmacists are frequently the first to recognize "red flag" behaviors signaling addiction or drug diversion: paying with cash, traveling long distances to fill prescriptions, and seeking opioids from multiple prescribers, a practice that can be identified through the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database. (All pharmacists have access to CURES, the California database of controlled medications dispensed in the state.)

While pharmacists are trained to identify prescriptions without a legitimate purpose, many pharmacists are unclear about what constitutes a red flag for addiction or diversion, and what to do when concerns are identified. Pharmacists must also ensure that patients are not denied access to needed treatment. Unbiased training can support both patient safety and patient-centered, compassionate care.

However, unbiased educational materials for pharmacists on safe prescribing are difficult to find — many resources targeted to pharmacists and physicians are funded by pharmaceutical companies,* and training materials often focus on subjective findings (for example, "looking nervous"), which can lead to profiling and biased treatment.

With funding from CHCF, Quality Healthcare Concepts created this free, one-hour, online educational course for pharmacists in California, with the following learning objectives:

  • Improve knowledge of the opioid epidemic.
  • Educate pharmacists on their responsibility for the handling of opioid drugs.
  • Review National Association of Boards of Pharmacy guidelines for recognizing red flag behaviors, indicating a possibly illegitimate request, with recommended actions.
  • Teach communication skills to help pharmacists manage these situations compassionately.

Register here for this free one-hour CME class for pharmacists on safe dispensing of opioids. The class is always available, and you may start and stop as your schedule permits.


*A Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program funds many different versions of free pain management education. Critics of these programs are concerned about hidden bias, as the programs focus only on the use of long-acting opioids, and the curriculum can underplay the risk of long-term opioid treatment.