Naloxone is Effective So Why Is It Still Not Widely Available?

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently advised that there is not enough naloxone available in communities that need it the most. Naloxone, of course, is the highly-effective prescription painkiller/opioid drug overdose intervention known more commonly by its brand name Narcan.

While the CDC report shows that the number of naloxone prescriptions distributed throughout the United States doubled between 2017 and 2018, from 271,000 to 557,000, rural counties were less likely to dispense the lifesaving drug, even those areas hit the hardest by opioid addiction.  Between 1990 and 2018, overdose deaths have been on a steady increase; but the intervention appears to be helping slow the epidemic. 

Perhaps the reason for this is a lack of supply or tight budgets that do not allow for stockpiling an effective inventory.  Regardless of the reason, opioid drug overdose intervention is important as the US continues to face its deadliest such epidemic in history.  The latest data shows that approximately 68,000 people die from overdoses every year. While that is, fortunately, a decline from the 70,000 reported in 2017, it is still too many to tolerate, especially when you consider the availability of the highly-effective intervention. 

The CDC report describes, “Naloxone distribution is an important component of the public health response to the opioid overdose epidemic.  Health care providers can prescribe or dispense naloxone when overdose risk factors are present and counsel patients on how to use it.”

Although it is recommended the drug should be dispensed with every painkiller prescription—a preventative measure in the event of accidental overdose—the CDC report found that as few as one in 69 high-dose opioid prescriptions were actually accompanied by naloxone.  As such, the agency is now asking doctors and pharmacists alike to allow more access to this important drug.  Accordingly, the CDC is also asking insurance companies to lower the drug’s out-of-pocket cost for patients. 

Continuing in the report, the CDC says, “Efforts to improve naloxone access and distribution work most effectively with efforts to improve opioid prescribing, implementing other harm-reduction strategies, promote linkage to medications for opioid use disorder treatment, and enhance public health and public safety partnerships.”

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