Have you heard?
Narcan (naloxone), the nasal spray that saves people from dying of opioid overdose, is now on your local pharmacy shelves as an over-the-counter medicine! Yep, you read that right!
Recently, the manufacturer of Narcan began shipping out the two-dose, 4-milligram nasal spray to pharmacies such as Walgreens, Walmart, and Rite Aid.
What does this mean?
You don’t need a prescription to access this life-saving medication.
In 2021, the CDC reported 80,411 opioid overdose deaths.
Statistical modeling done in 2019 suggests that high rates of naloxone distribution among people in the community, like YOU and emergency personnel, could avert 21% of opioid overdose deaths, and the majority of overdose death reduction would result from increased distribution to people in communities.
Who does this affect?
*Anyone who takes prescription or non-prescription opioids
*Loved ones and roommates of people who take opioids
*Members of communities where there are high rates of overdose
Examples of opioids include:
People most at risk of overdose are:
Taking high-dose prescription opioids for pain management
Taking non-prescribed opioids that may be laced with more potent opioids than their body is used to
Taking a high dose that was used before but hasn’t taken opioids in a while (during the period when a body has not been exposed to opioids, it re-sensitizes to lower doses)
Returning to the community after incarceration and using a dose that they could handle previously
Taking opioids and drinking alcohol
Taking opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time. Benzos are a class of medication that is used to treat anxiety. Examples include Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam).
Data on overdoses in the U.S. also show that people without health insurance and people living in poverty are at higher risk of overdose, likely due to their efforts to self-treat their pain (physical and/or psychological) in the context of fewer resources.
Nerd Alert: Incoming neurochemistry!
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist (ant- = against,- agonist=champion). Naloxone blocks the brain’s uptake of opioids and replaces them. This is lifesaving because when those neuroreceptors are too full of opioids, breathing slows or stops, causing death. When the opioids are knocked off of the opioid receptors in the brain by naloxone, breathing returns to normal.
What else do you need to know?
This over-the-counter Narcan will cost you. Somewhere in the range of 40+ bucks.
That makes this resource inaccessible to many.
Here’s what Those Nerdy Girls recommend:
If you are prescribed an opioid, don’t leave that clinician’s office without talking about getting a prescription for Narcan or the generic naloxone. Your insurance will likely cover it. (Don’t forget to get instructions on how to use it AND teach your loved ones and housemates how to use it!!! Make sure everyone knows where it is kept.)
If you take non-prescribed opioids or are a family member, roommate, or community member who doesn’t have an extra $40+ lying around, visit your local health department or harm reduction center or look online: https://www.getnaloxonenow.org/#getnaloxone or https://nextdistro.org/naloxone#stateselector
If you are a family member (for example, you are caring for an aging parent who takes pain medication and you also have young children who love to explore in grandma’s room), a community member, or a roommate who can afford the over-the-counter cost, then throw it in the basket next time you are out restocking your toothpaste. To be safe, it’s a sound idea for anybody who has opioids in their home to also have Narcan on hand. You never know what might happen, and it could save a life so why not? Also, it is available online. You don’t even need to leave your couch!
Once you get that naloxone in your hands, go to the *EXCELLENT* video below to learn how to identify an overdose, how to use the nasal spray, and what to do next.
Stay safe, help your community, save a life.
Those Nerdy Girls
Resources and References:
Never Use Alone (Call this number, and someone will stay on the phone the whole time, alerting EMS if you become unresponsive):
Mandy: 800-943-0540. This number is not overdose prevention. It connects with someone who has lived with Substance Use Disorder and can be with you if you feel isolated.
Townsend, T., et al., Cost-effectiveness analysis of alternative naloxone distribution strategies: First responder and lay distribution in the United States. International Journal of Drug Policy, 2019.