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Pharmacists Take the Lead in Providing Vaping Interventions

Nov 13, 2020

Kimberly Novak, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCPPS, FPPA, with PGY2 residents Becca Wytiaz and Mara Rubin.

AN INCREASE IN THE USE OF E-CIGARETTES AMONG adolescents in the U.S. is erasing recent progress in reducing overall tobacco use in this population, according to alarming statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Some 27.5% of high schoolers and 10.5% of middle schoolers reported current use of e-cigarettes, the CDC reported in a recent issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, creating an immense opportunity for pharmacists to get involved.

Vaping and COVID-19

In 2019, there was a surge in E-cigarette or vaping product use-associate lung injury (EVALI) which was particularly noted in adolescents and young adults. Interestingly, there was an observed decrease in EVALI cases early in 2020, explained Kimberly Novak, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCPPS, FPPA, an advanced patient care pharmacist in pediatric and adult cystic fibrosis at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “This was originally attributed to increased public awareness of vaping and strategies aimed at reducing marketing and access of flavored vaping products of preferred by this population,” said Dr. Novak. “However, this decrease also corresponded with the initial surge in COVID-19 cases and many state-mandated stay-at-home rules as well as increased implementation of work-from-home and virtual school policies.”

As many of these policies were loosened in the summer months, health care practitioners have noted an increase again in EVALI cases, perhaps due to less supervision as parents returned to onsite work, she added.

Pharmacist roles

In general, e-cigarette usage in adolescents “has blown up among this population way more than people suspected, particularly because it’s so easy to hide, and it doesn’t smell,” said Dr. Novak. “This snuck up on us as a society with very little regulation, and now we’re working backward, trying to catch up to this epidemic that got out of the bag before we got a hold on it.”

Kyle Mays, Pharm.D., BCPPS, discusses cessation options with a teenage patient.

Pharmacists can play several important roles in patient care regarding e-cigarette usage and related lung injuries, said Dr. Novak, an ASHP member since 1998. In teaching hospitals like hers, pharmacists provide continuity where attending physicians and residents may change over. They also can monitor trends in nicotine usage, and, because patients view pharmacists differently than their physicians, they may share more information about medication histories with them.

Typical agents prescribed to help curb nicotine cravings, like varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin), are not indicated for people under the age of 18, noted Justin Reinert, Pharm.D., BCCCP, a clinical assistant professor at the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Tyler. This doesn’t mean physicians aren’t prescribing them for this population, he said, but pharmacists can employ motivational interviewing techniques and assess patients’ readiness to change.

Interventions to reduce usage

In addition, pharmacists can use their medication expert hat to advise primary care teams on different vaping products used by teens, said Kyle Mays, Pharm.D., BCPPS, a critical care pharmacist with SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. When his hospital saw a recent surge in illnesses among patients using THC-related vaping compounds, some of his colleagues weren’t aware these products were linked to lung injuries because of the solvents and vitamin E they contained. If patients are admitted with severe lung illnesses and are intubated and can’t speak, Dr. Mays and colleagues play detective, eliminating potential causes or ordering urine toxicology screens.

Justin Reinert, Pharm.D., BCCCP

In an effort to address e-cigarette usage in his area, Dr. Reinert is directing a two-fold intervention. Pharmacists and doctoral pharmacy students are providing educational in-services and assemblies in local schools, as well as surveying high school students about their use of nicotine products. Then, beginning this fall, pharmacy students will provide nicotine cessation programs in schools, targeted to high schoolers who may have violated a tobacco or nicotine use policy.

Among over 100 students they surveyed so far, about 78% reported using these products, said Dr. Reinert, an ASHP member since 2013. “Students are primarily into vaping, but it’s important to be cognizant of other things out there,” he noted. “Kids are still smoking cigarettes, they’re still using cigar wrappers for marijuana. The addictive component of the devices remains nicotine.”

Dr. Reinert tries to use shock value to educate the students, asking how many of them who drive and pump gas would stick the gas nozzle into their mouths and inhale. “There are components in these vaping cartridges that are identical to components of unleaded gasoline—lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium and heavy metals, etc.,” he said. “The students have no idea, which is terrible, but it also highlights the need for targeted education at this age group, which I think pharmacists are uniquely positioned to accomplish.”

Strategies for pharmacists    

The pharmacists offered advice on working with adolescent patients and their families:

  • Take an objective yet compassionate stance. “Don’t tell them they’re [doing something] wrong,” Dr. Novak said, as that can cause the patient to shut down and not disclose information. Instead, acknowledge that they may have made an unhealthy choice but keep the lines of communication open. “Your job is to treat the patient and make them better, not ridicule what they were doing that brought them in,” added Dr. Mays, an ASHP member for the past 10 years.
  • Put your message in terms relative to adolescents. Dr. Reinert’s cessation curriculum discusses the financial, health and psychosocial ramifications of nicotine use at a level appropriate for adolescents, not adults or younger children.
  • Offer resources for quitting. Educate adolescents that, similar to cigarettes, it’s hard to quit cold turkey, Dr. Mays noted. Encourage them to seek appropriate help through their pediatrician or another primary care provider, and work with them to develop a plan.
  • Try to talk to the patients without their parents. Patients may not want to fully admit to using these products, especially if their parents are present, Dr. Mays said.
  • Keep current on your knowledge. People tend to think JUUL devices are the e-cigarette of choice for teens, but new ones are popping up all the time, said Dr. Mays. “You have to stay trendy with what’s going on in a teenager’s mind,” he added.

Patient impact

Vaping devices essentially are nebulizers that deliver a drug, Dr. Novak said. But they haven’t yet been adequately studied to determine what products should go in them, what the safety margins are, or if chemicals put into them are altered by heat that the devices generate. Hopefully, with time, she said, the medical community will learn better safety information about these devices and their related products.

Meanwhile, pharmacists should stay involved, such as working with ASHP to advocate for more regulation around vaping and nicotine products. “The more we can do this on an individual level, whether in our own institutions, providing education or working with poison centers, we can make a pretty positive impact wherever our patients are,” said Dr. Novak.

 

By Karen Blum

 

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