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SJU Professor Expands the Reach of Life-Saving Medication

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thanks to recent legislation a St. John’s University professor helped develop, New Yorkers now have access to a rescue medication used to prevent accidental deaths that can be caused by drugs known as opioids, including legal painkillers and heroin.

“New York City has seen higher rates of unintentional drug overdose deaths over the past few years,” said Vibhuti Arya ’06Pharm.D., an Associate Clinical Professor in the University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any previous year on record, and more than half of all overdose deaths involved an opioid. This is an epidemic, and it’s essential that we increase the availability of naloxone.” 

Known as a “save shot,” naloxone is an injectable or nasal spray medication that blocks the effects of opioids. It has long been used by hospitals to quickly stop a person from dying of an overdose, but Arya is part of a new movement to expand its access by getting it into the hands of pharmacists.

Working as a clinical advisor to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Arya helped shape legislation that issued a standing prescription order for naloxone so any pharmacist in the five boroughs can dispense it. The DOHMH issued the order on December 7, 2015. Since then, 693 pharmacies have signed on to this new public health initiative.

“Pharmacists can now dispense naloxone for about $40 to anyone who requests it, no questions asked,” Arya said. “This increased access will save lives.” Naloxone is now available for purchase without a prescription at many pharmacies throughout New York City, including most Rite Aid, CVS, Duane Reade, and Walgreens, as well as at participating independent dispensaries.

Arya stressed the importance of reaching the 72 percent of pharmacies in the city that are independently owned.  “This summer, we will go door to door,” she said. “I want to reach as many community pharmacists as possible.” To further increase the initiative’s scope and potential impact, she personally insisted on language in the law that would also permit pharmacy interns to dispense naloxone.

Coming to St. John’s was a natural extension of Arya’s desire to serve the community. Having taught at the University for seven years, she believes her students are truly dedicated to living its Catholic and Vincentian Mission. “When I started here,” she said, “I wanted to create a Jedi army of students who would graduate, commit themselves to public health, and become socially responsible individuals who saw the value of service.”

Arya’s commitment to teaching and public health inspires her students. “There is definitely something special about learning from Dr. Arya,” said Sana Ahmad ’17Pharm.D. “She has mentored me, given me a chance to get to know myself, and guided me through the learning process. She makes all of her students’ progress her business, and takes the time to help her students grow academically, intellectually, and personally.”

“Dr. Arya encourages us to think logically and independently,” said Emily Yang ’16Pharm.D. “In addition to being a role model for making changes in the public health system, she is also someone with admirable morals and beliefs. She is a nurturer, and wants us to be the best version of ourselves before we leave the safety net of school and take off on our own.”

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