New Haven pharmacists take fight against opioids to the streets

This story was originally published in the New Haven Register and written by Ed Stannard

NEW HAVEN >> Pharmacist Ed Funaro Jr. is taking the fight against opioid overdoses on the road.

Director of Visels Pharmacy, 714 Dixwell Ave., Funaro is bringing the customer service his 104-year-old Newhallville store is known for into the community, in order to get the lifesaving drug naloxone to as many people as possible.

Last year, 917 people in Connecticut died from accidental drug overdoses.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to go outside the walls of the pharmacy to provide a service, so I thought it was important to take that opportunity to provide service to the community,” Funaro said.

Since 2015, certified pharmacists have been given the ability not only to dispense naloxone — commonly sold under the brand name Narcan — but to prescribe it as well. The drug, which can be injected directly into the thigh or inhaled, reverses the effects of opioids, whether oxycontin or heroin.

“Connecticut was the first state to allow a pharmacist to prescribe naloxone,” Funaro said.

Funaro took the state’s course to be able to prescribe the drug. “I’ll provide training on the proper use,” he said. “We basically talk about overdose prevention, how to recognize overdose.”

The program is not meant just for the patient using or abusing opioids. “It’s also meant for family, friends, caregivers and that was part of the law where it doesn’t have to be about the patient. It can be about somebody who’s concerned about that patient.”

Since someone suffering an overdose is likely to be unable to administer naloxone to himself or herself, it is vital that family members and friends have the antidote at hand.

“Hopefully, you never need it, but you can save somebody’s life by having it on hand and knowing how to use it,” Funaro said.

Funaro has taken part in three events, along with pharmacists from Yale New Haven Hospital and students from the Yale School of Public Health, arranged by the Northeast Pharmacy Service Corp. of Framingham, Massachusetts, which supports independent pharmacies. They’ve been held at recovery homes in Clinton, East Haven and New Haven.

“It’s education,” he said. “It’s really what I’m providing for the patient, [to] make sure other people in the house know how to use it. … It is such a prevalent issue, you’d like to see more people take advantage of it.”

Karen Hekeler, pharmacy service consultant for the Northeast Pharmacy Service Corp., said, “The pharmacists have been pretty active. I think that the average person who maybe has a loved one or family member who’s hooked, I don’t believe they know they can go into a pharmacy and get a prescription.”

The stigma of addiction may also keep someone from approaching their family pharmacist, she said. The community events offer another opportunity to obtain naloxone. One was even held at the state Capitol in Hartford.

Joe Petricone Jr., owner of Petricone’s Pharmacy, 110 E. Main St. in Torrington, will hold his first off-site prescribing and dispensing event on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day. It will be held at Coe Park from 6 to 9 p.m., along with a vigil for people who have died of overdoses.

“I think it’s great,” Petricone said of the ability to prescribe off-site. “One thing we have noticed, since we’ve been given the ability to prescribe and dispense, people have been leery about coming in. The problem is people feel very reluctant about walking in and asking for whatever reason. They don’t want to ask.”

Petricone said people may not realize how they could save a life. “I had a woman whose friend was overdosing and she didn’t have anything,” he said.

Karen Ablondi is owner of Shoreline Recovery, which operates two recovery houses in East Haven, one for men and one for women. She has organized naloxone-dispensing events at local recovery houses. Her fourth is scheduled for September at a recovery house in New Haven.

“We get all the residents trained. We get all the managers trained in how to administer the Narcan,” Ablondi said. “This may be the first time someone’s getting trained in how to use Narcan. It may be the first time someone’s holding a Narcan kit in their hands.

“Our goal is to reach out to other sober homes in Connecticut and go and provide training to them,” she said.

The next public event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the North Haven Public Library, sponsored by the Quinnipiack Valley Health District. Walk-ins are welcome but you can register by calling 203-248-4528 or emailing CORE@qvhd.org.

This story has been edited to correct Karen Ablondi’s business. She operates two recovery houses in East Haven.

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