The Drug Policy Alliance and National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable applaud APhA’s new health-centered position on substance use.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 24, 2023) – On March 27, 2023 the American Pharmacists Association’s (APhA’s) House of Delegates passed historic amendments to their policy statements on substance use, now expressing support for decriminalizing the personal possession or use of illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia.
This shift comes at a time when the nation’s worsening overdose epidemic urgently demands changes to a punitive response that has relied on the criminal justice system and disproportionately harmed people of color and people experiencing poverty. The focus on punishment has not helped to save lives or support public health and, in fact, has put more people at risk of drug-related harm.
APhA’s updated statements affirm the potential and importance of pharmacists and pharmacies as public health professionals and venues that are accessible to individuals, families, and communities struggling with substance use throughout the U.S.
“As key access points for harm reduction services like naloxone, sterile syringes, and medication for opioid use disorder, pharmacists play an essential role in addressing the overdose crisis,” said Jeffrey Bratberg, PharmD, FAPhA, Clinical Professor at University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. A recent study published by Bratberg and colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 89% of patients randomized to a novel pharmacy-based buprenorphine induction and maintenance arm remained in care at 30 days, as compared to 17% in the usual care control group.
APhA’s members have traditionally led and championed innovative efforts to expand overdose education and naloxone distribution, along with broader support of prevention of infectious disease transmission among people who use drugs. “APhA’s support for addressing substance use as a health issue, rather than a crime, strengthens pharmacists’ roles as public health professionals and is a critical step toward addressing rising overdose and hepatitis C infection rates,” said Adrienne Simmons, PharmD, MS, BCPS, Director of Programs at National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable.
With this policy update, APhA has joined the ranks of the United Nations, the American Public Health Association, and other notable domestic and international associations in recognizing that drug use is first and foremost a matter of public health and available resources should primarily be allocated toward health interventions, not arrests and incarceration.
“Bringing humane, health-focused policies to our communities is another step toward health equity and anti-racism,” said Vibhuti Arya, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, Professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Advisor to New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “I’m honored to have worked with my colleagues to bring this policy to our organization and advocate for systemic reform toward an equitable future.”
Arya, Bratberg, and Simmons also delivered an educational session at the APhA Annual Meeting that drew over 200 attendees to learn about decriminalization and harm reduction, in addition to recently publishing a commentary on the topic.
A growing bipartisan majority of registered U.S. voters also support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, according to a 2022 poll from Data for Progress. The same survey found nearly half of voters say they or a loved one have experienced an overdose or substance use disorder, underscoring the ubiquitous reality of an epidemic that has never truly been exclusive to heavily-policed streets.
“We have lost over a million lives to preventable overdose deaths during the overdose crisis, and it is clearer than ever that we must move away from a punitive approach toward one grounded in compassion and public health if we want to save lives,” said Sheila Vakharia, PhD, LMSW, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Research and Academic Engagement. “APhA’s historic statement recognizes that criminalization and punishment will only harm the most marginalized among us, and that pharmacists should work to expand access to lifesaving harm reduction and treatment strategies that work.”
About the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR)
The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, an initiative of HEP, is a national coalition fighting for an equitable world free of viral hepatitis. NVHR seeks to eliminate viral hepatitis in the United States and improve the lives of those affected through advocacy, education, and support to national, state and local partners. For more information, visit www.nvhr.org.
About the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. We envision a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights; in which people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies; and in which the fears, prejudices, and punitive prohibitions of today are no more. For more information, visit www.drugpolicy.org.
Jenni Todd: (206) 934-0711
Matt Sutton: (202) 556-3291