Walgreens plans to increase mental health and substance abuse training for hundreds of pharmacists and staff at its drugstores amid the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Walgreens has partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health and the American Pharmacists Association to make training available to Walgreens pharmacy staffers in “mental health first aid,” which those involved say will help assist patients suffering from mental health conditions or substance abuse.
“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 in crisis,” Walgreens Boots Alliance co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay said in a statement.
The strategy is the latest from big healthcare companies to ratchet up screening for patients with substance abuse and mental health conditions in the wake of the deadly opioid epidemic. Major health insurers like Anthem, Cigna and UnitedHealth Group are closely monitoring prescriptions and making sure physicians in their networks adhere to certain protocols and recommended dosages.
By improving mental health education, screening and literacy, companies could also be engaging in risk management.
Drug makers and other healthcare companies like Walgreens that have been involved in the production, sale and distribution of opioids may have reason to fear “a tobacco-style master settlement agreement,” a report last year from Fitch Ratings said. Other companies that distributed or sold opioids also face some risk, including drugstore chains like CVS Health, which is also at some financial risk because it owns the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Caremark, Fitch said. Other PBMs, including Express Scripts now owned by Cigna and UnitedHealth Group’s OptumRx, could also face some risk.
Walgreens has increased mental health services in recent years as the company has added more medical treatments and wellness services to become a retail health destination for consumers. Three years ago, Walgreens expanded mental health services to include access to behavioral health treatment via Breakthrough, a unit of telemedicine firm MDLive. Walgreens also expanded customer options for treatment, screenings and awareness through its mental health platform, Walgreens.com/mentalhealth, which was launched in May of 2016.
The additional “mental health first aid” training administered by the National Council, trains “participants in mental health literacy, understanding risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, and strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations,” Walgreens and the council said. “One in five people experiences a mental health or substance use issue in a given year and it’s likely that most of those individuals use a pharmacy’s services during that year,” the National Council for Behavioral Health’s CEO Linda Rosenberg said.
For more information on healthcare, read Bruce Japsen’s book, Inside Obamacare: From Barack And Michelle To The Affordable Care Act.