Life-Saving Naloxone Approved for Over-the-Counter Sale
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Narcan (naloxone)—a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses—for over-the-counter sale. Experts hope that approving this drug will mitigate the overdose crisis, which is currently the leading cause of accidental death in the nation. In Florida alone, 7,719 people died of a drug overdose in 2021. This is an age-adjusted rate of 36.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
While Narcan has already been available to obtain without a prescription in Florida and many other states, this recent approval may still have a significant impact nationwide.
Usually, when someone overdoses on heroin or a prescription opioid, they die because the drug has slowed their breathing to the point that prevents enough oxygen from reaching the brain. Naloxone—the active ingredient in Narcan—binds to the same receptors in the brain as opioids and blocks and reverses their effects, allowing the person to resume breathing. This can buy crucial time for emergency services to arrive.
Narcan is a nasal spray device that can deliver a potentially life-saving dose of naloxone to someone experiencing an opioid overdose. The device is simple to use for a layperson, requiring little training or instruction. Naloxone usually has no effect on someone that has not used any opioids.
Research suggests that improved access to naloxone has a positive effect on reducing overdose fatalities. A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependency in 2019 concluded that in the communities studied, distributing more naloxone kits resulted in fewer overdose deaths.
The FDA approval of Narcan opens many new opportunities to improve accessibility: Even in Florida and other states where the drug had already been available, people would need to get naloxone from pharmacies, harm reduction centers, or through community outreach programs. Now, supermarkets, gas stations, and other businesses will be allowed to carry the product.
However, experts have identified challenges that may not make Narcan as accessible as intended. First, there’s the question of price. If the drug is too expensive for most people that need it, it’s unlikely that making it available for purchase over the counter will do much good. Conversely, if the price is too low the drug becomes unprofitable, and stores won’t carry it.
Additionally, drug addiction is still a highly stigmatized condition and store owners may be unwilling to carry a product associated with opioid use. Dr. Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, told CBS News that whether businesses carry this drug depends greatly on public attitude.
“Do we say to them, ‘Why on earth is this here? I don’t like this,’” Humphries asks. “Or do we say ‘Hey, we have a problem in this community. Please carry this for people who need it?’”
The overdose crisis is a problem without an easy solution; whether this recent action by the FDA will have a positive effect remains to be seen. Naloxone may be able to save someone from an overdose, but it does not address the root cause of the problem for many people—opioid addiction.
Recovery is possible but it often requires treatment. Years of research have identified evidence-based methods used in opioid addiction treatment, including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), behavioral therapy, peer support, and more.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.