Pharmacist Reinvents Role To Fight Opioid Epidemic
Allison Burns, PharmD ’16, pioneers a new healthcare delivery model to serve the community.
Following a hip injury during Navy flight school, Allison Burns was overprescribed pain pills. After leaving the military, she enrolled in a PharmD program at MCPHS, where she discovered her purpose: to help patients fight opioid addiction. She now runs an organization in Boston called End Mass Overdose Health.
As a first-year PharmD student, Dr. Burns was particularly interested in the role that pharmacists play in the opioid epidemic. They unwittingly helped drive it, but they also helped to counteract it.
“At that time, it was 2011, which was midway through the opioid epidemic, but I don’t think anyone looked at prescribing patterns very closely back then,” she explained.
During her fifth year at MCPHS, Dr. Burns created the business plan for End Mass Overdose, aiming to get naloxone—a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose—to more people. After graduating in 2016, she focused on her project full-time. She petitioned the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy to create the first-of-its-kind traveling pharmacy and educational program to fight opioid overdoses. The End Mass Overdose program, called Opioid Rescue, transformed any space—such as a school, church, or gym—into an area to dispense naloxone rescue kits and provide harm reduction resources.
“I saw the need for education and could empathize based on my background,” said Dr. Burns. “Naloxone is a prescription medication, so pharmacists should take the lead on this issue.”
Opioid Rescue was just the beginning—for End Mass Overdose and Dr. Burns. While she was giving out blankets and naloxone on a stretch of Boston known as Methadone Mile, she was approached by the CEO of Hope House Addiction Services, who asked for her to help manage medications at their facilities. She created the Substance Use Disorder Pharmacy Program (SUDPP), the first medication management service that places pharmacists in residential facilities, addiction treatment centers, sober homes, and halfway houses to manage medications, prevent overprescribing, and reduce costs.
“Hope House was a learning laboratory that gave me a chance to understand the problem from top to bottom,” she explained.
Dr. Burns was soon asked to serve as the first pharmacist advisor to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. And End Mass Overdose morphed into EMO Health, the first organization in the state to focus on medication therapy management services, training, and support to residential treatment facilities in Massachusetts.
Dr. Burns was awarded the Next-Generation Pharmacist award from the Pharmacy Times in 2020 for her pioneering work. She has also been selected by the State of Massachusetts to present twice at an annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference. And she currently lectures for the School of Pharmacy’s Practice Management Lab.
“Pharmacists are educators,” said Dr. Burns. “No one knows more about medication than us, and we have an obligation to spread that knowledge.”