Narcan, the easy-to-use nasal spray of the drug naloxone, which has a strong track record of reversing opioid overdoses, may soon be available over the counter. The biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions sought approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week to make the lifesaving medication easily accessible to all, with the FDA agreeing to fast track their application to sell Narcan over the counter without a prescription. An answer is expected to be given by the end of March 2023.
The idea of making Narcan easy to access could have an impact on the opioid epidemic in the United States as deadly opioid overdoses have risen in recent years, largely because of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), overdose deaths involving opioids are up by 15%, increasing from 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.
During severe opioid overdoses, people can stop breathing and die. Having Narcan readily available to the public, though, and possibly other forms of naloxone in the future, can help avoid these deaths and combat against the epidemic. Unfortunately the drug is currently difficult to access in a lot of areas as legal barriers make it difficult for people who use opioids, and their friends and families who may be present at the scene of an overdose, to obtain a prescription.
“There is no excuse for not having Narcan available everywhere when we know this medication can save tens of thousands of lives right now,” says Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a press conference earlier this month.
What Is Narcan and How Does It Work?
Narcan is a small, easy to carry medication designed to rapidly reduce opioid overdoses, including fentanyl, heroin, and many prescription opioid medications. It reverses an overdose by blocking the effect of opioids and quickly restores normal breathing within two to three minutes for those whose breath has slowed or stopped as the result of an overdose.
There are two forms of the drug that anyone can use without medical training or authorization such as the prefilled nasal spray and the injectable. Naloxone isn’t harmful when administered, even if someone is overdosing on drugs other than opioids. The CDC advises that if you find yourself in a situation where someone is overdosing, it’s best to stay with them until emergency help arrives or at least four hours to ensure their breathing returns to normal.
The Importance of Carrying Narcan
Why should you carry Narcan? Research shows that bystanders are present in more than one in three overdoses involving opioids. If everyone carried Narcan, bystanders could prevent hundreds if not thousands of overdose deaths a year. Moreover, carrying naloxone shouldn’t be viewed differently than carrying an EpiPen for someone with allergies. Doing so simply provides an extra layer of protection for those at high risk of an overdose.
If you or someone you know is at an increased risk of opioid overdose, you should consider carrying Narcan and keeping it at home in a safe, easy to reach space. And because you can’t use the medication on yourself, let others know that you have it in case you experience an opioid overdose.
A Question of Affordability
According to the CEO of Emergent BioSolutions, Robert G. Kramer Sr., the goal for Narcan is to have it widely available not only in pharmacies, but also in classrooms, businesses and shops, and even in people’s purses. And while the availability of the drug is the next step in combating the opioid epidemic in the United States, the fear is that the lifesaving medication will not be affordable to most of the public. As of yet, Emergent BioSolutions hasn’t set a price for the nonprescription version of Narcan.
Additionally, state governments, nonprofit groups, and insurance companies, subsidize naloxone distributions but it’s not clear how this system will be affected once Narcan is available over the counter. The hope, though, is that as other drug companies introduce new naloxone products and seek permission to sell without a prescription, that prices will fall, making Narcan easily accessible for all.
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