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ITHACA, NY, August 1, 2016 – Ithaca’s Green Street Pharmacy Nicole Pagano, co-owner and supervising pharmacist, has gained attention from the state.
Pagano was recently honored as the 2016 recipient of the Cardinal Health Generation RX Champions Award, an accolade awarded to her from the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York for her passionate pursuit to reduce and prevent prescription drug addiction in Tompkins County.
“To receive this honor is an incredible feeling. It shows that what my team and I are doing is impactful and meaningful,” Pagano said.
Part of Pagano’s mission includes making treatment, such as Suboxone, Methadone and Naloxone (Narcan), more readily available for opiate drug users.
“Withdrawal is the most agonizing pain a person can experience in their life. Well, we have the treatments available to assist users through it, so we should use them,” Pagano said. “Nobody says anything negative about people who use a nicotine patch, or about the diabetic who uses insulin…These treatments are no different than that.”
Pagano fought TotalCare when it elected to remove Suboxone as a preferred product on their formulary for the treatment of opioid dependence, and she won. She also worked with Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick; State Director of the New York Drug Policy Alliance, Kassandra Frederique; and many others to develop The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to
Drugs and Drug Policy.
In a few short months since the release of the plan, Tompkins County has increased the number of physicians willing to treat addiction by 50 percent.
“Currently we have a wait time of two years to get addicts into treatment,” Pagano said. “The only way for an addict to get in sooner is to get arrested and be court ordered into treatment.”
No other disease requires incarceration to occur before treatment is granted, she added.
Society’s negative views towards opiate users is also part of the problem when trying to address the drug abuse issue, Pagano said, noting that she is trying to change the way prescription medicine users and addicts are treated and perceived by society. She said some of her customers have complained to her about being treated negatively at other pharmacies because of their drug use.
“There is no reason why someone should have a negative experience with a pharmacy or any other type of healthcare provider because of the prescriptions that they need,” she said. “I encourage everyone to remember that our patients are people and not just symptoms of their disease.”
Green Street Pharmacy has teamed up with the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County, the Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, and area doctors to create programs that will target drug addiction and tackle the stigma that is attached to opiate users and addicts.
“Ithaca is being very proactive in addressing this issue now that we are aware that addiction is a disease and not just a bad choice,” Pagano said. “We are fortunate to have many resources and a community of open-minded individuals who are willing to explore alternative ways to address opiate addiction.”
Pagano said treatment at her establishment starts with providing a non-judgmental environment.
“I know functioning professionals who use opiates in their day-to-day lives,” she said. “They aren’t worthless or hopeless. They’ve just been functioning for a long time on pain killers. They just need our professional help.”
Open communication is another avenue Pagano has chosen to better serve her customers. Pagano regularly communicates with health insurance providers, doctors, and her customers. She said constant conversation with her clients makes them more willing to discuss their drug use.
“If we can learn the underlying reason for their drug use, it makes treating their addiction easier,” she said.
Pagano also wants to assist people who may need daily doses of medications other than opiates.
She is working with Dr. John Bezirganian, Tompkins County’s Mental Health Center and Alcohol and Drug Council medical director, to introduce PreExposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP) to the area.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis is when people at very high risk for HIV and hepatitis C take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected, Pagano explained.
“It’s very common in New York City, and it saves lives,” she said. “Everything I’m doing at the pharmacy is to make life easier for others, make the community a better place, and save lives.”
Pagano has owned Green Street Pharmacy since December 2011. She is the co-owner of Addison’s Apothecary Inc., in Addison, NY. Pagano resides in Steuben County with her husband and three kids. She is a Waterloo, NY native.