Fighting for Care in the Commonwealth
Dr. Chris Harlow (Class of 2010) knows too well how access to high-quality healthcare can save lives. Harlow is the co-founder of St. Matthews Community & Specialty Pharmacy in Louisville, Ky, and a tireless advocate for patients struggling with substance use disorders. When Harlow was in his last year of pharmacy school, he learned of his mother's accidental overdose and passing. “If my dad had access to Narcan, he could have saved my mom’s life.”
Today, Harlow is at the forefront of practice advancement and patient advocacy. In partnership with Dr. Jill Rhodes (Class of 2004), Harlow is improving care options for patients struggling with opioid use disorder. In fact, St. Matthews was the first pharmacy in Louisville to offer the lifesaving opioid-antagonist Narcan. As a past president of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association (KPhA), Harlow and others implemented an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) Protocol approved by the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. This protocol increases access to the non-opioid option for the treatment of addiction. The pharmacy now offers a substance use treatment program that partners alongside rehab, transitional, and mental health facilities managing patients for 6-12 months and continuing their out-patient treatment.
Harlow has found that the community pharmacy-based model provides an environment that sets up his patients for success. “With our program, we can get people on treatment and have them stay on treatment longer. It’s because of our people-first approach in a community-based environment.” St. Matthews works to ensure patients feel safe and welcome. “I believe our community pharmacy increases the anonymity of the individual seeking care allowing patients to come and feel comfortable in this environment,” says Harlow.
Fostering patient relationships is one of Harlow’s most rewarding aspects of his job. "Seeing patients go through major life changes—like being able to hold down a job or be able to get married and start a family—is something so special about the position I'm in," he says.
Harlow’s advocacy for patient access has increased the number of patients on treatment. He has partnered with the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy (UKCOP) and became the first pharmacy to participate in a pilot program that uses KORE grant funding to compensate pharmacists for their time managing patients practicing under the OUD protocol. While Harlow is increasing access to care, he acknowledged that there are still barriers. “I have witnessed patients on treatment getting back to work and transition to commercial insurance that will not cover the treatment they need,” he says. Harlow continues to advocate for the elimination of prior authorizations for medications used to treat substance use disorders.
Harlow is quick to credit the college for preparing him for a career that allows him to innovate and address the needs specific to his patients. The training he received at UKCOP and the strong networking opportunities have permitted Harlow to be a leader in the pharmacy world.
“I feel fortunate to have been able to attend UKCOP,” says Harlow. “Getting involved and connecting with leaders shaped who I am as a pharmacist.” Kentucky is a hub for pharmacy advancement, and the University of Kentucky spearheads many of these initiatives.
“I don’t believe I would be where I am today without my degree from the University of Kentucky,” Harlow says. “UK opened my eyes to everything I could do as a pharmacist. Even as a student, I could make an impact on someone’s wellbeing.”
As the pharmacy profession grows, Harlow is confident community pharmacies will continue to adapt and innovate. “If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, that’s where you make the most difference.