Naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, will be commercialized over the counter at more than a half of the 8,200 stores operated by Walgreens across the United States, it has recently been announced.
Naloxone is commonly administered by emergency medical technicians and paramedics to opioid addicts following drug overdoses.
The antidote can either be provided intravenously, making its effects felt in just 2 minutes, or through an intramuscular injection or as a nasal spray, reducing symptoms associated with opioid overdoses in about 5 minutes.
Now, the largest drugstore operator in the United States will be selling naloxone over the counter, in order to make the lifesaving treatment more easily accessible across the nation.
The retail pharmacy chain headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois has launched this program in New York last week, and is also planning to expand it across Ohio and Indiana by the end of the month.
At first, the focus will be on pharmacies that are open 24/7, hundreds of locations from 35 states and Washington D.C. being expected to have this medicine on their shelves in the near future. Progressively, it is expected that naloxone will become readily available across approximately 5,800 drug stores operated by Walgreens.
As explained by Richard Ashworth, the company’s president of pharmacy and retail operations, the initiative of selling naloxone without prescription was deemed necessary in order to provide speedier assistance to those who experience life-threatening overdoses.
After abusing opioids such as heroin, Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Demerol, morphine, methadone etc., people can exhibit symptoms such as loss of consciousness and dangerously slowed breathing (respiratory depression), which can often prove fatal, unless immediate medical assistance is provided.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed, the number of deaths triggered by overdosing on heroin and prescription painkillers has soared by 14% in 2014, corresponding to approximately 61% of the 47,055 fatal drug overdoses that have occurred across the United States throughout the year.
The incidence of drug-related deaths is especially high in West Virginia, Ohio, New Mexico, Kentucky and New Hampshire, and health officials believe overdoses have become more likely now because opioids are more easily accessible, relatively low-priced and of a much greater potency and purity than usual.
Given that the World Health Organization has come to the conclusion that naloxone has the potential to curb opioid deaths across the United States by about 20,000, at the moment making this reversal drug as widely available as possible is considered of key importance.
That’s precisely why Walgreens executives wanted to be among the first to set an example in this direction, by selling the antidote over the counter to everyone who needs it.
Apparently, the medicine that the chain’s drugstores will be making available against opioid overdoses will be commercialized as a nasal spray.
In order to be allowed to sell naloxone even across states which normally don’t condone this practice in the absence of a prescription, the company will collaborate with drug regulatory authorities, and hopefully succeed in providing the medicine to as many people whose survival depends on it.
Apparently, Walgreens is also working on setting up kiosks where customers can discard medicine that has expired or is no longer needed, in order to help reduce the probability that such controlled substances will be accidentally ingested or abused by other people.
Installing such drop-off points is bound to also be an environmentally-friendly initiative, given the fact that pharmaceutical pollution triggered by inadequate drug disposal is a common problem nowadays, contributing to the decline of many species of fish and amphibians.
The project will first be tested in California, and then broadened to include about 500 drug stores from Washington D.C. and 39 states.
Image Source: Flickr