Jonathan Watnabe looking at camera.
Jonathan Watanabe, UCI professor of clinical pharmacy, is the director of the newly launched UCI Center for Data-Driven Drugs Research and Policy. Steve Zylius / UCI

In a feature article recently published in the journal The Senior Care Pharmacist, Jonathan Watanabe, UCI professor of clinical pharmacy and board-certified geriatric pharmacist, says that pharmacists play a critical role in helping to curb the escalating opioid epidemic.

Opioid addiction worsened during the pandemic, due to heightened feelings of anxiety and isolation. People over 65 are at increased risk for opioid use disorder and related complications; are more likely to require hospitalization; and have the highest death rates. People with OUD also often encounter barriers to care that adversely impact treatment for chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, elevating their risk for stroke, diabetic renal disease and myocardial infarction.

“Expanding the number of pharmacies involved in providing care for people with OUD is an important step, and developing specific policies that focus on older people is also urgently needed,” Watanabe said. “In the pandemic, pharmacists proved to be neighborhood front-line providers. The time is now to protect seniors suffering from the scourge of OUD. Recent landmark federal legislation has improved access to medications for treatment. We have to make the most of this opportunity to save lives and reduce the despair linked to OUD.”