Could Making Naloxone More Available Reduce Overdose Deaths?

Could Making Naloxone More Available Reduce Overdose Deaths?

Naloxone is a prescription medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. At the moment, the drug is a prescription-only medication which means that it is only available through a physician or, in some cases, made available to law enforcement agents. Recently some officials have begun to push for the antidote to become more readily available to the public.

President Obama’s drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has made known his desire to see naloxone become an over-the-counter medication. The National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Volkow joins Kerlikowske in that wish. A recent online article quoted Kerlikowske’s reasoning behind this push. Timing is crucial when it comes to saving the life of an overdose victim. Whether or not a person lives through overdose often hinges upon how quickly the person has access to the antidote. Naloxone is capable of reversing the effects of opioids even if the victim had also been using depressants like alcohol along with the drugs.

The FDA has been talking about how to make naloxone more accessible. For a controlled drug to become available as an over-the-counter medication usually requires that the manufacturer make a petition. Permission is normally granted only after further (and costly) research and testing. So far, the makers of naloxone have not made that petition.

Perhaps to underscore his support of the initiative, Kerlikowske addressed a meeting of Project Lazarus in North Carolina. This overdose prevention project has been piloting efforts to widen naloxone distribution. Since the project’s inception just two years ago the region has seen a 67 percent reduction in the number of overdose deaths. The project has also been instrumental in lowering opioid prescription rates without negatively impacting treatment of chronic pain patients. Just how effect is naloxone in reducing overdose fatalities? In that part of North Carolina 80 percent of overdose victims held a doctor prescription when they died in 2008. By 2011 that number had fallen to zero.

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