Should The Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug, Naloxone, Be Sold Without A Prescription?

Dawn Papple - Author

Feb. 20 2017, Updated 10:50 p.m. ET

CVS pharmacies in 12 additional states will be selling the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, better known as Narcan, without a prescription, according to a CVS announcement. Naloxone is a heroin antidote that can save lives. Naloxone was already available in CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Arkansas, California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin will now join the list of states where naloxone will be available without a prescription to total 14 states in the Union.

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“Over 44,000 people die from accidental drug overdoses every year in the United States and most of those deaths are from opioids, including controlled substance pain medication and illegal drugs such as heroin,” Tom Davis, VP of pharmacy professional practices for CVS, explained. “Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses and by providing access to this medication in our pharmacies without a prescription in more states, we can help save lives.”

“While all 7,800 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide can continue to order and dispense naloxone when a prescription is presented, we support expanding naloxone availability without a prescription and are reviewing opportunities to do so in other states,” Davis added.

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Naloxone is non-addictive and nontoxic. This anti-opioid is administered either through nasal application, an intramuscular injection, or intravenously. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain that are targeted by heroin, as well as many prescription painkillers. Given that the Food and Drug Administration just approved heroin-like OxyContin for children as young as 11-years-old, having immediate access to naloxone can help more than adults addicted to opioids.

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The American Medical Association endorsed the training of lay people on how to use naloxone in order to prevent overdoses from opioids. The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Gil Kerlikowski said that naloxone distribution is a major component in the prevention of overdose deaths. In just over two decades, the lay use of naloxone resulted in 26,463 overdose reversals, according the CDC. It’s unlikely to enable addicts, because the administration of naloxone to someone experiencing an overdose while addicted to opioid drugs will send them into rapid withdrawal.

“The only thing naloxone does is reverse an opiate overdose,” Laura Thomas, California deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance, explained. “It’s not a drug that people can get high on, it’s not a drug that has any other repercussions or side effects, and increasingly people understand that we need to get naloxone into the hands of anyone who’s likely to be at the scene of an overdose.”

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First responders and police are finally getting trained on how to use and equipped with naloxone in order to curb overdose deaths. Unfortunately, as the demand for naloxone rises, the price of it has reportedly doubled. According to NPR, in Baltimore a single dose went from 20 bucks to 40 bucks in less than six months, and if this keeps up, only the wealthy may have access to naloxone, the antidote for the lethal risk of opioid addiction.


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