Short-staffed and no support for rural pharmacies offering methadone

Rural community pharmacists have concerns about offering methadone treatment in their clinics and many pointed to staffing challenges and lack of support as barriers.
Methadone needs to be dispensed daily for patients going through treatment for opioid addiction. (Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Rural community pharmacies wanting to provide addiction treatment are facing numerous barriers that reduce their incentives to do so, such as staffing issues and concerns about safety.

A recent study in the Journal of Rural Health revealed these findings through interviewing 11 community pharmacists who practice in Huron and Perth County. 

"A lot of rural pharmacies are small operations," Feng Chang, one of the co-authors and also a clinical pharmacist in Ontario, told CBC News. She said many run on limited hours, staffed with only one pharmacist with no support network.

Feng Chang is a clinical pharmacist and she teaches at the School of Pharmacy at University of Waterloo. (University of Waterloo )

The trouble with providing methadone treatment in particular is it requires daily dispensing of medicine. As a result, pharmacists will have to come in on their day off work to provide that medicine.

Not enough staff also leads to security and safety concerns, Chang added.

Partnerships important

Some of the pharmacists contacted for the study proposed a joint-service provision model to incentivize providing methadone treatment.

Chang said such a model could "share workload so that not one pharmacy feels over-burdened by high number of clients."

Pharmacists who normally work alone could then also discuss with their peers if they run into a challenging patient.

Other than staffing challenges, willing community pharmacies may find it difficult to begin offering methadone maintenance treatment due to a lack of training and mentorship.

"They were definitely more worried about providing such a service than in feeling like there are strong incentives to do so."

Giving increased opportunity for pharmacists to access that training and to learn how to rearrange staffing to provide treatment could help them begin offering those services, Chang said.