Forefront launches nation’s first-ever suicide prevention training developed for and by pharmacists

A message of proactive suicide prevention – and hope – reached a critical audience last weekend: A packed house of about pharmacy professionals at the Northwest Pharmacy Convention.

Jennifer Stuber, faculty director of Forefront, a social impact center at the University of Washington School of Social Work, co-delivered a seminal three-hour training with Brandy Singer, Pharm. D., BCPP: “Suicide Awareness & Referral for Pharmacy Professionals.”

“Talk to every patient about secure storage and disposal of medications,” they urged. “If we do this routinely, it will save lives.”

The convention, which drew over 500 pharmacy professionals from across Washington, Idaho and Montana, offers many continuing education sessions. For the first time in its history (and nationwide), that includes suicide prevention training mandated by state law.

This kicks off the first phase of Safer Homes Suicide Aware, a statewide public education campaign which empowers pharmacy professionals, firearms dealers, primary care physicians, dentists, and the public to play a role in recognizing suicide warning signs and temporarily reducing access to lethal means.

The Safer Homes Suicide Aware’s pharmacy trainings, the result of the newly signed Washington State law (ESHB 1612), are estimated to apply to at least 8,500 pharmacists statewide, according to Forefront.

“It is important to think about this training as being broadly applicable to each and every person in your life—your parents, your teenage and adult children, your neighbors and friends, their children, your colleagues,” said Stuber, who is also an associate professor at the UW School of Social Work. “There is a role for every single person in this room in suicide prevention, even if your practice as a pharmacist involves very little patient contact.”

Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D., and Brandy Singer, Pharm D., BCPP, debut the “Suicide Awareness and Referral for Pharmacy Professionals” training. – Photo courtesy Lejla Mlivic

It includes the LEARN™ suicide prevention steps developed by Forefront, tailored for pharmacy situations and depicted in a five-minute video clip of a role-play between a real-life pharmacist and patient. It also covers gendered differences in suicide means, as well as over the counter medications known to increase suicidal thoughts or actions.

Additional profession-based trainings are being developed – for up to 130,000 healthcare providers and nearly a thousand firearm dealers and employees, for example.

Co-developed in partnership between Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA), Forefront, and faculty from University of Washington School of Pharmacy and Washington State College of Pharmacy, the pharmacy suicide prevention course awaits approval by the Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission prior to implementation.

Beverly Sheridan, President-Elect of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, experienced the value of this type of training last year.

A few weeks after she attended a one-and-half hour suicide prevention training hosted by WSPA last fall, she recalled: “I had someone – a colleague – contact me on a personal level.”

Sheridan learned that her colleague had been facing personal struggles – which felt insurmountable. As a result of applying the skills she learned in this workshop, she was then able to connect him to the help he needed.

“It was incredibly valuable to be able to respond in a short order. Knowing what to do in that situation is a universal challenge,” Sheridan said. “Most people – not just pharmacists but people in general – don’t know how to address it.”

While designed with pharmacy professionals in mind, “Suicide Awareness and Referral Training for Pharmacy Professionals” is also applicable for intervening with loved ones in one’s personal life – such family members and friends.

This one-time training will be mandated for all pharmacists in Washington State, starting with their renewals after July 1 this year.

That includes Sheridan, whose career includes nearly a decade as the director of pharmacy operations at Harborview Medical Center.

“I’m going to learn so many more things from this new training, that I didn’t know about before,” she said prior to the convention.