‘Overdose antidote’ naloxone marks one year of availability in Minnesota

December 5, 2016

It has now been one full year since naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, has been available at pharmacies here in Minnesota. The increased availability of the life-saving drug has made a difference according to medical professionals at the University of Minnesota.

“I’ve seen it in action,” said Jason Varin, Pharm.D., pharmacist and assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. “It’s truly an amazing drug, it often works in less than 5 minutes.”

Naloxone is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, including respiratory depression, sedation and hypotension and is used to treat an opioid overdose in an emergency situation.

Minnesota was one of about a dozen states to make the drug available to the public at CVS starting in September 2015. Soon after, Walgreens and many independent community pharmacies followed. Experts at the University of Minnesota say this was done in response to the increasing number of deaths from opioid overdoses each year.

Experts believe if naloxone was made available to more people other than just medical professionals, for example opioid users, their family and friends, and people who could witness an overdose, the number of opioid related deaths would be reduced. This thought is supported by a report by the Harm Reduction Coalition. The coalition surveyed over 600 community based opioid overdose prevention programs in 30 states and D.C. which provided naloxone kits to laypeople. The results indicated that nearly 27,000 overdose interventions occurred as a result of these take-home naloxone programs.

It’s difficult to find recent data pointing to exactly how many lives naloxone has saved since becoming more accessible in Minnesota, but Varin believes it is obvious. “On any given day, at a major metro hospital such as Hennepin County Medical Center, it would not be unusual to cross paths with someone who has been treated and perhaps been saved with naloxone. An estimated 3 million US citizens are addicted to opioids; 2/3 of those people are addicted to prescription opioid medications. It’s likely you know someone suffering from this addiction.”

Currently in Minnesota, pharmacies that dispense naloxone are able to do so through a collaborative agreement with a physician, similar to the process facilitating pharmacist-provided flu shots.  A prescription is still required in each case, however the pharmacist may provide the prescription themselves based on the patient history and the pharmacist’s professional judgment.

“It should be available to anyone who may need it,” said Varin.

Currently, the process can be time consuming, so Varin suggests anyone, especially caregivers of at-risk individuals, should plan in advance to ensure naloxone is available to them.

“With this new generation of easier to get, quick-acting, often more potent drugs, if you were to walk into your dad’s, your grandmother’s, or your child’s room and find them unconscious due to an overdose, they could be gone by the time the paramedics arrive. But if you had naloxone, it could make all the difference,” said Varin. “Having it in people’s hands will save lives.”