The value of involving pharmacists in reducing harm from drugs of abuse is highlighted in a new report by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP).

The report describes harm reduction services such as needle exchange and opioid substitution in different regions and countries, including Europe, the USA, Canada, central Asia and the Middle East.

FIP’s Working Group on Pharmacists’ Role in Harm Reduction, which put the report together, would like pharmacy organisations to engage with policymakers and health authorities to remove barriers to more involvement of pharmacists in harm reduction services.

“Of 158 countries that reported people who inject drugs, only 90 implement needle exchange programmes. Yet the benefits of harm reduction are many — both to individuals and society — including prevention of infection by HIV and hepatitis C, fewer overdoses and less drug-related criminal activity,” said working group chair Andy Gray.

The report specifies that a comprehensive service should include: syringe and needle exchange; opioid substitution therapy (preferably with pharmacist prescribing or dose adjustment); naloxone supply for overdoses (including pharmacist-initiated supply); and health promotion (including advice on sexual health).

In addition, against a background of shifting policies on marijuana around the world, the report also addresses questions over the supply from pharmacies of marijuana or cannabinoid-containing products for the purpose of medicinal use or recreational use, or both.

The working group considers that arguments could be made for the sale of marijuana from a pharmacy based on harm reduction principles but that such policies must be developed in conjunction with pharmacists and take into account concerns over the potential damage to pharmacists’ standing in the public eye. “There needs to be an evidence-informed process of public policy development,” Gray said.

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