A Review of Suicide Prevention Programs and Training Policies for Pharmacists

Kristine Conrow, Pharm.D., Walgreens/UMP Bethesda Clinic

Background: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It is unknown how often a pharmacist encounters a patient at risk of suicide in the United States; however, the likelihood will most likely increase with the unfortunate rise in suicide rates each year. Pharmacists are accessible health care providers, especially where pharmacy locations and hours are often convenient and open late in the evening. No studies have been conducted in the United States regarding pharmacists’ barriers to counseling patients at risk of suicide, and it is unknown what training programs or resources are available for those in the pharmacy field. The objectives of this study were to determine if 1) any states required suicide prevention training for pharmacists and 2) to describe any training materials or educational resources available for pharmacists encountering patients at risk of suicide.

Methods: In order to determine state requirements in suicide prevention for pharmacists, a continuing education (CE) website was utilized to distinguish the number and types of CE required in each state by pharmacists. Then, each state board of pharmacy was contacted between July and November 2017 via phone or e-mail to verify the CE information found on the website. A literature review was conducted to evaluate whether training materials or educational resources were available for pharmacists. Articles were included if they described an educational or training program for pharmacists or pharmacy students, were not focused solely on a depression screening program or pharmacists’ attitudes on suicide/assisted suicide, and provided sufficient detail about the training program or resource. Two independent coders extracted the following data from the resources that met inclusion criteria: “1) name of training program; 2) format of training program (e.g., in person, online); 3) length of training; 4) target of training (e.g., student pharmacists, pharmacists); 5) learning methods (e.g., didactic presentation, role-play, case studies); 6) topics covered; 7) program outcomes assessed (e.g., satisfaction, knowledge); and 8) cost.”

Results: Only the state of Washington requires a licensed or active pharmacist complete a one-time 3-hour CE course on suicide awareness and prevention training as of August 2017. The literature and Google review resulted in 16 pharmacist or student pharmacist targeted suicide training materials or educational resources: eight in-person courses, six online courses, and two written resources. Five of the resources were designed specifically for pharmacists, whereas the others were intended for both pharmacists and other pharmacy staff/students or healthcare professionals. The majority of the programs included suicide statistics, identifying individuals at risk of suicide, how to communicate with patients who are suicidal, and how to refer patients to resources if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts. Nine of the resources (56%) discussed medications that may be linked with risk of suicidal ideation.  

Conclusion: There are many comprehensive training materials and educational resources pharmacists can utilize to better educate themselves when interacting with patients at risk of suicide. Although suicide prevention training is not mandated in 49 states, pharmacists have the opportunity to expand their own knowledge, improve communication skills and confidence in a difficult situation, and become better prepared to potentially impact patients’ lives.


  1. Carpenter DM, Lavigne JE, Roberts CA, Zacher J, Colmenares EW. A review of suicide prevention programs and training policies for pharmacists. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2018;58:522-529.

  2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide Statistics.https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/. Published 2018. Accessed November 10, 2018.