Walgreens will soon sell lifesaving antidote, over-the-counter Narcan, that counteracts the deadly effects of opioid overdoses including heroin, they announced last week.
Narcan over the counter will allow both family members and drug users to have the antidote safely nearby in case of an overdose.
Opioid-related overdoses currently kill more than 140 Americans every day, and they have only been getting deadlier as powerful drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil (an elephant tranquilizer), deadly to even some of the most experienced drug users, have hit the streets in the US. Narcan, which comes both as an injection and a nasal spray, can “pull back” drug users from the brink of death. Only the nose spray, however, has been made available for over-the-counter Narcan purchases.
While many states have their own laws regarding naloxone, Walgreens has taken months to hammer out the agreement in 48 states, which will doubtlessly save lives in those states. Walgreens has more than 8,000 pharmacies that will carry this lifesaving antidote. CVS, which is considered to be one of Walgreen’s largest competitors, has been stocking the overdose drug over-the-counter in 43 states. Walgreens previously sold Narcan OTC in about 33 states. The new plan allows it to be sold nationwide. In addition, customers who are prescribed morphine in more than 50mg dosage will be informed of how Narcan can help them in case of an overdose.
“By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed,” said Rick Gates, Walgreens group vice president of pharmacy. “As a pharmacy we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve.”
Because Narcan is now over-the-counter in these pharmacies, it’s not clear which insurance companies will pay for it. Many insurance companies can offer lower prices when prescribed by a doctor, and first responders often get it for free or at steep discounts. However, over the counter Narcan is made available to help people who use drugs both recreationally and/or for physical ailments – and many do not want their doctors to know or intervene if they overdose.
Narcan nose spray costs about $125 per dose out of pocket. Paramedics and other emergency responders often have to use more than one dose when helping experienced drug users recover from an overdose. One dose of Narcan is no magic solution to an overdose, and users usually enter withdrawal from opiates when they wake up. They also still need to be transported to the ER to check for overdose complications and have other vital signs monitored as they recover fully.
Once at the ER, however, many people who have overdosed have expressed a desire to get help for their substance abuse. Many states and counties have developed special programs to meet suspected drug abusers “where they’re at” and help them make decisions about their future and getting help for their addictions.