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Emergency Department Visits Due to Pharmaceuticals: Pharmacists Can Make a Difference

May 29, 2019

cawleyAs pharmacists, we continue to demonstrate our value to organizations regarding drug expertise. However, as some organizations may welcome our input, others may either ignore, discount, or undervalue our services on how we can make a difference in medication related outcomes. Recently, while reviewing a number of topics related to medications and emergency room visits in the United States, I came across a published paper that was a bit disappointing. 

The paper included data collected in 2016 from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance. The paper reviewed over 5,100 cases that encompassed more than 358,000 emergency department (ED) visits associated with harm due to nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals. The major purpose of the paper was to study public surveillance data of United States ED visits induced by nonmedical uses of pharmaceuticals and to GUIDE PREVENTATIVE EFFORTS.

The paper went on to discuss the results of specific agents including benzodiazepines, opioids and other agents including alcohol and illicit drugs.  The study’s conclusion stated that “clinicians should consider implementing specific screening to address polysubstance use and, when warranted, treatment interventions.” 1 However, in the discussion of the paper there was not a single mention of including pharmacists in the PREVENTION or SCREENING process to address polysubstance abuse.

Although there was a pharmacist who was a member of the publication team, the authors did not even consider our role that it has value in this medication related issue. Why is it that pharmacists are consistently ignored here—is it that we do not have value? Is it that we are not recognized as a legitimate healthcare provider? Is it society believes physicians are the only ones who can solve this problem? Do researchers honestly believe physicians have the time to implement a screening process with patients to address this issue? A screening process—this is exactly what pharmacists can do to assist physicians with this issue.

My hope is that future research addressing drug-related adverse effects on hospital admissions will incorporate pharmacists on a routine basis. This in turn will help all of us and society in recognizing the value of pharmacists.

Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a professor of clinical pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has more than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.


Geller AI, Dowell D, Lovegrove MC et al. U.S. emergency department visits resulting from nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals, 2016. Am J Prev Med 2019;000(000):1-9.

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