No one knows how many pharmacy technicians work in Colorado. But that will start to change next year, thanks to a state law that regulates the profession for the first time and also requires technicians to be certified by a nationally recognized organization.
Starting March 30, 2020, pharmacy technicians must complete an approval process with the Colorado State Board of Pharmacy in order to practice in the state. Applicants must undergo a criminal background check and provide documentation of certification from a nationally recognized organization that certifies pharmacy technicians.
The law allows the pharmacy board to grant a nonrenewable provisional approval of up to 18 months for pharmacy technicians who have not fully met the certification requirement. A longer provisional approval period may be granted in certain circumstances, such as financial hardship, illness, or to avert negative effects on healthcare access in the community.
ASHP in April submitted a letter to the Colorado General Assembly in support of the legislation.
“Registration and national certification are important steps to ensure that pharmacy technicians have the appropriate skills to assist pharmacists. This legislation recognizes the important role that pharmacy technicians play in patient care,” said Tom Kraus, Vice President of ASHP’s Office of Government Relations.
The Colorado Pharmacy Society (CPS) stated that getting the legislation passed was one of the organization’s top advocacy goals for the state’s 2018–19 legislative session. Before the law was passed, Colorado was one of five states that do not regulate pharmacy technicians, according to data from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
Gina Moore, Chair of CPS’s Legislative Committee, said that although the new state law doesn’t refer to PTCB’s Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) credential, it is considered the standard for national certification of technicians.
Moore, who is also Assistant Dean for Clinical and Professional Affairs at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Aurora, said PTCB certification is already a requirement for most hospitals in the state but not necessarily for retail pharmacies.
A PTCB spokesperson said the organization’s most recent certification data indicate that Colorado is home to 5,328 pharmacy technicians with an active CPhT credential.
Moore said CPS’s advocacy effort was driven by concerns about drug diversion and “making sure we knew who was working in our pharmacies.”
“There have been a couple cases — as there are everywhere — of technicians diverting drugs,” she said. Without a system to identify and regulate technicians, Moore said, problem technicians can move from site to site without raising red flags.
“It’s certainly about patient safety too; we want to make sure people working in our pharmacies are appropriately trained,” Moore said.
Colorado law requires any entity that seeks to newly regulate an occupation or profession to first submit a “sunrise” application to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). That triggers a review of whether the lack of regulation constitutes a substantial public safety risk and if regulation is the appropriate remedy.
“We convened a stakeholder group of individuals having an interest in regulating technicians, from community pharmacy and hospital pharmacy, technicians, the state society, and others who understand the need and could essentially make our case for the sunrise application,” Moore said.
DORA’s response, she said, was “a very strong recommendation to regulate pharmacy technicians in our state.”
The next step was to work with the state legislature to develop and enact a law creating the new regulation.
“CPS was really behind it from the get-go,” Moore said. “We ... worked with our lobbyist and the writers to draft the bill as well, in conjunction with legislators.”
She said CPS reached out to its pharmacy technician members and to staff at technician training programs in the state to get input on the legislative language.
Moore said there was concern in rural communities that pharmacies would not be able to recruit enough nationally certified technicians to operate and safely serve patients. She said that’s the main reason for the provisional approval mechanism.
She said technicians in the state who helped shape the legislation viewed it as a way to document their knowledge and skills and increase their career opportunities. And she said pharmacists hope that the law will support the development of advanced roles for technicians and free pharmacists to expand their clinical responsibilities.
Moore said the next step for CPS is to ensure that the pharmacy board’s regulation accurately reflects the legislation. She said CPS is also keeping abreast of proposed state legislation that affects pharmacy benefit managers as well as scope-of-practice measures.
“I think it’s really key ... that all the pharmacists, not only in our state but in others, recognize the importance of advocacy and continue to advocate for our profession and advancement of the profession,” Moore said.
[This news story appears in the January 1, 2020, issue of AJHP.]