Naloxone Kits: Are Pharmacies Set to Combat Opiate Overdoses?

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Mike was at his apartment and using heroin with a group of friends. Since Mike’s regular dealer was out of town, he’d picked up the batch from someone different.

After shooting up, Mike immediately noticed a difference in the way he felt. Something was wrong; a panic quickly washed over his body.

Within an hour, Mike collapsed to the ground and became unresponsive. Tragically, he was pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital.

An opioid overdose reversal drug such as naloxone could have immediately reversed the symptoms, but he hadn’t felt comfortable asking his doctor for the prescription required to pick it up at a pharmacy. His friends frantically called 911 and paramedics rushed to the scene, but it was too late.

The Horror that is Opiate Addiction

Opioid overdose deaths have become an epidemic across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that heroin-related deaths have nearly quadrupled since 2002. Use of the drug soared by 63 percent during the same period.

To help combat this issue, several states – including Rhode Island and Massachusetts – have decided to allow at-risk patients access to naloxone rescue kits without a prescription.

Patients determined to be “at-risk” are those who use illicit drugs and those who may be at risk of overdosing on a prescribed medication.

This model of pharmacy-based naloxone (PBN) was first endorsed by Walgreens stores in Rhode Island, who worked on the pilot program with researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC), Rhode Island Hospital, and the University Of Rhode Island College Of Pharmacy. They first expanded the program across Rhode Island before moving it statewide in Massachusetts.

Other pharmacies, including CVS Pharmacy, Eaton Apothecary, BMC Pharmacy, and Lifespan Pharmacy, quickly began to participate in the program as well.

Proof that Naloxone Saves Lives

Data published in the latest issue of Harm Reduction Journal showed that increased access to naloxone slowed down opioid overdose death rates in both states. These findings were even more noteworthy since these death rates increased substantially in surrounding states.

“Not all communities have harm reduction or treatment services available, but pharmacies are everywhere,” said Traci Green, PhD, MSc, deputy director of BMC’s Injury Prevention Center and associate professor of emergency medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “Creating these `behind-the-counter’ pharmacy models for naloxone allows greater access and availability to people who may not be comfortable or able to obtain naloxone from syringe exchange programs or drug treatment programs, and especially to communities outside of urban settings.”

The Truth About Naloxone Kits

Although drug treatment and education are the most ideal method of preventing tragedies related to opioid overdoses, life-saving medications like naloxone should be as accessible as possible.

It’s also important to realize that, despite the fear mongering of late, overdose reversal kits are not a crutch that allows someone to continue his or her substance abuse. On the contrary, these kits are a tool meant to keep people alive long enough to get them the treatment they desperately need and deserve.

Additional Reading Heroin Use Increasing Across New Demographics, Study Finds

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