Walgreens is training pharmacists to tackle mental health, opioid emergencies

Discussion
Source: Walgreens
May 02, 2019
George Anderson

Walgreens has announced a collaboration with the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) to provide mental health first aid training for some of the drugstore chain’s pharmacists and other team members.

The retailer will initially focus on training 300 employees in mental health first aid within its human resources unit. The initiative is part of the company’s plan to better deal with mental health and opioid addiction in the U.S. Roughly eight million adults are estimated to be living with mental health conditions and/or substance abuse issues. Those going through the program will be trained on how to identify risk issues and how to spot signs of addiction among customers. Pharmacists will be instructed on how to respond in both emergency and non-emergency situations.

“With the growing need for services and resources to help those living with mental health conditions, as well as substance use and addiction, we can play an important role by giving our pharmacists and certain team members the training to help those who may be in crisis,” said Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. “We’re proud to further our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of our communities through this initiative and working with the National Council and APhA to continue an important dialogue around mental health and how we can help.”

Employees who successfully complete the training program will receive continuing education units from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Walgreens plans to roll the program out and make it available to pharmacists chainwide.

The new initiative follows an announcement last week from the chain that will it will raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in its stores from 18 to 21 on Sept. 1.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect the role that pharmacists play to continue to expand into different areas of health as more becomes known about issues such as chronic diseases, mental health, opioid addiction, etc.? How do you expect pharmacies to balance new duties for pharmacists with the filling of prescription medicines?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Bravo for Walgreens! Pharmacies are literally on the front line of health crises. Not nearly enough is being done, especially for mental health."
"Most of the time pharmacists are behind one or two barriers and don’t have regular interactions with customers. Consequently, it may ultimately be up to the cashier..."
"It comes with potential liabilities but may also help Walgreens when the next state government accuses them of being part of the opioid problem."

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9 Comments on "Walgreens is training pharmacists to tackle mental health, opioid emergencies"


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Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Bravo for Walgreens! Pharmacies are literally on the front line of health crises. Not nearly enough is being done, especially for mental health. While employees cannot be expected to intervene, training on how to recognize symptoms and refer is big step in the right direction. This another example of a retailer doing more than selling their goods in store — it is a great example of engaging employees to help the community beyond the store. Let’s hope that this program is a success and can be scaled nationally, across many pharmacies.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

I’m all for new business opportunities, but this reeks of big liability issues. I can’t help but feel this is going to be an “I told you so” moment in the making.

What’s going to happen when a pharmacist intervenes and falls short of determining someone has a mental health issue or addiction and hurts themselves or others? What about when someone doesn’t have an issue and a “do-good” pharmacist tells them or a family member that they believe they do?

There are professionals in mental health and addiction with far more extensive training and field experience than a pharmacist is ever going to have with some coursework. Walgreens needs to leave this to them and focus this energy/investment on customer experience.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I think this is a brilliant move on behalf of Walgreens. We are living in a world where healthcare is not affordable for everyone despite what Obamacare was supposed to do. Those that do have health insurance often find limitations on what is covered and what is not. Mental health is still in many ways’ new territory for us, and we need to learn as much about it as possible and quickly.

I see Walgreens, and other pharmacies continuing to expand their role with health and wellness services and this is just the beginning. I would expect CVS and other competitors to follow. Hopefully, there will be a natural bridge for the pharmacist to get the patient the help they need when diagnosed, and that is where the challenge will be.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

I think this is a wonderful initiative. We are constantly hearing about people whose symptoms of mental health issues are going unnoticed. It’s a daunting challenge for pharmacists and reference to the American Pharmacists Association collaboration is a strong testimonial for the program.

Most of the time pharmacists are behind one or two barriers and don’t have regular interactions with customers. Consequently, it may ultimately be up to the cashier (aka other “team members” mentioned) in the pharmacy section to call attention to a potential need. That suggests more responsibility for those individuals along with the need for training them as well.

I hope Walgreens succeeds and becomes a role model for other retailers who regularly interact with those in need.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

Kudos to Walgreens for being forward-thinking and socially responsible. Walgreens is ahead of the curve in bringing low-lift healthcare into a retail environment. Make yourself extremely valuable to the consumer and you’re going to win.

With caveat — this is an additional role for pharmacists who’ve become responsible for a broad range of responsibilities in the retail environment, so I hope it doesn’t result in longer lines for prescription pickup-ups.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Great example of a retailer, Walgreens, becoming more socially responsible and genuinely trying to make a positive impact on their customers. Health and wellness are becoming ever more important factors to all generations of consumers and this is a response to that trend which allows Walgreens to become a more integral part of their health in a time where healthcare is becoming less reachable for so many. Retailers and brands are in a unique place where they can deliver an impact to consumers in a way even governments cannot or are unable/unwilling to do so. The future of working as a pharmacist is likely to change quite a bit in the coming years!

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Great move! This moves Walgreens closer to the stance that CVS has taken with their health focus. As Ken pointed out if comes with potential liabilities but may also help Walgreens when the next state government accuses them of being part of the opioid problem.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

It sounds like a laudable goal, of course, but I’m wondering how much can be accomplished given the privacy restrictions inherent in medical relationships; I’m also curious if this will open up Walgreens to litigation if something goes wrong, though I suppose they’re already routinely included anyway.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn
Guest

Pharmacists are among the most-trusted workers in the U.S., shown year after year in the annual Gallup Poll on ethics in U.S. professions. As more consumers seek health@retail in convenient, accessible locations, pharmacists are playing growing roles in their local communities to bolster health — physical/clinical, mental, and bricks-and-mortar stores for community and social connectedness. This will be an integral feature in evolving community health ecosystems. Some of these may evolve into “accountable care communities,” beyond the current ACO model for managing population health care and costs.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Bravo for Walgreens! Pharmacies are literally on the front line of health crises. Not nearly enough is being done, especially for mental health."
"Most of the time pharmacists are behind one or two barriers and don’t have regular interactions with customers. Consequently, it may ultimately be up to the cashier..."
"It comes with potential liabilities but may also help Walgreens when the next state government accuses them of being part of the opioid problem."

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