America is currently facing one of the biggest crises the medical world has ever seen— the opioid overdose epidemic. So far, drug overdose death rates are steadily increasing, with a total of 52,000 deaths in as recent as 2016. Of those, more than 20,000 were the result of prescription opioid misuse. Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation has determined through polling that 66% (two-thirds) of the American population consider prescription drug abuse a severe problem that requires more attention. With this in mind, it’s of vital importance that we better understand and utilize any medical tools that can help prevent overdose and slow the death count. Thankfully, we have one: naloxone. Here are some need-to-know facts about the life-saving, overdose-reversing drug.
Naloxone Only Works for Opioid Overdoses
Naloxone is entirely safe to use and extremely efficient. In fact, this drug is fast-acting and is only active in a person’s system between 30 and 90 minutes. But as powerful as it is, this drug does not counteract overdoses brought on by non-opioid or narcotic drugs. Additionally, it will not reverse the effects of an alcohol overdose. It only works on opioids, and it cannot be taken preemptively (i.e., before opioid drug use has happened).
It’s Fast-Acting— And Needed ASAP
The sooner the overdose victim receives a dose of naloxone, the better results the drug will yield. Waiting too long to administer naloxone may bring about serious consequences, even if the drug does reverse the overdose. Brain damage is one example; when a person suffers an overdose, he/she experiences oxygen deprivation in the brain because breathing has stopped. Acting quickly is the key to avoiding consequences like this.
Naloxone Can Enter the Body Several Different Ways
This drug is available in a few different forms. It can enter the system as a nasal spray, via an auto-injection (similar to an EpiPen), or through an IV. The injection method has three different routes:
- intramuscular— into the muscle
- intravenous— into the vein
- subcutaneous— under the skin
The nose spray seems the most popular form of naloxone since it’s arguably the most comfortable to use, but the best dosing method depends on the person who administers the drug. If the overdose victim is unconscious, someone else has to apply it. Both the nasal spray and auto-injections can be used by either the victim or a bystander. Additionally, these forms of naloxone are mostly used at home or in public settings. Naturally, only hospitals and medical professionals can administer naloxone using the IV method of injection.
It Is Not a New Drug
Contrary to popular belief, the idea to market an overdose-reversing drug is not a recent one. Medical researcher Jack Fishman, Ph.D., first created naloxone in 1961. Reportedly, he drew inspiration from oxymorphone, which comes from morphine, to synthesize a drug with similar structural adaptation. When absorbed in the brain, oxymorphone attaches to the same receptors that opioids tend to target. Fishman created naloxone to do the same thing, but with less potency than morphine. Mainly, it works by binding to the brain’s receptors before opioids can claim all of them. This slows the effects of opioids and prevents overdoses.
Naloxone is FDA-Approved
The FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) approved Fishman’s synthesized drug in 1971, a decade after its introduction into the world of medicine. Today, the FDA continues to promote naloxone as the best method of efficiently preventing opioid overdose, going so far as to call it “the overdose drug.” With so much support from the FDA, the drug is making headlines as the key to ending the opioid epidemic.
WHO Endorses it for Overdose Reversal
The World Health Organization (WHO) has two lists of medicines that update every two years. WHO first came up with the Essential Medicines List (EML) and the Essential Medicines List for Children (EMLc) in 1977. These ever-expanding lists only include the safest and most effective medications for adult and child consumption respectively. Everything on these lists is considered by many to be invaluable to the healthcare system. Naloxone is on both lists.
Naloxone Use is Recommended by SAMHSA
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is always looking for more ways to prevent overdoses and save lives during the opioid crisis. SAMHSA’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit is a digital pamphlet that offers up-to-date information for communities and local governments to use when they develop new practices regarding opioid overdose. The information in this educational toolkit is applicable in training for doctors, first responders, and opioid overdose survivors in how to handle an emergency overdose situation.
Since naloxone is the most effective medication for opioid overdose-reversal, information about it has been included in SAMHSA’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit— in fact, it’s mentioned 140 times in the 2016 updated version.
It’s Accessible in the Vast Majority of the U.S.
Narcan, the most recognizable brand of naloxone, is widely available throughout the country. Within the last decade, this brand-name medication became accessible in 46 of the 50 states— including Florida. While sometimes this drug does require a prescription, it’s mostly available over-the-counter. In fact, Floridians can get naloxone without a prescription at both CVS and Walgreens.
Naloxone Tends to be Expensive…
Unfortunately, the high demand for naloxone in recent years has made it somewhat expensive. It costs anywhere from $30 to $90 for a full naloxone kit, depending on the brand. The five companies that compete to produce brand-name naloxone nationwide are:
- Adapt Pharma
- Amphastar Pharmaceutical
- Kaléo, Inc.
Kits from these companies will be the most expensive. However, even the listed prices for generic naloxone are still pretty high. Before the onset of the opioid crisis, generic naloxone cost roughly $1.84 for one dose. Today, the same dosage costs about 17 times that. Thankfully, most insurances cover the cost of naloxone, including both Medicaid and Medicare. Still, coverage will vary depending on the state. Talk to your doctor to find out more.
…But It Might Get Cheaper Soon
Although the drug may be expensive now, there’s a strong chance that it will become more affordable and even more accessible in the near future. With the opioid crisis on the rise, more and more people are demanding that the pharmaceutical manufacturers and sellers make naloxone cheaper. The federal government and several state governments have already spent millions to ensure that police officers and first responders always have naloxone on hand for emergency situations. The good news is, the Department of Health and Human Services now has the power to negotiate with Big Pharma to set reasonable prices for naloxone. This is because the Trump administration has recently declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency.
TTC Outpatient Services Encourages Naloxone Use to Prevent Overdose Death
At The Treatment Center, we believe it is crucial for our law enforcement and emergency medical services to have ready access to Naloxone during this opioid epidemic. Just last year The Treatment Center gave a $25,000 donation to Palm Beach Fire Rescue to provide the much-needed drug to their ambulances. Relapsing is unfortunately common during the early stages of recovery, but this overdose-reversing drug may just mean the difference between your next try at sobriety and your last. If you or someone you care about has an opioid addiction, please call us at (844) 211-7944 for more information about outpatient treatment program options. All calls are confidential.