I love Google News alerts. They silently scan the web for your keywords, and package everything up in a daily email of stuff which (unlike most of the internet’s flotsam) you’re actually interested in knowing about. One of the things I want to know about is naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Although many unsung heroes have been working on naloxone access for more than a decade, until quite recently my naloxone alert would go weeks or months without a hit. No more.
For whatever reason, the fact that lives can be saved with a cheap, easy to use medication has finally started to become widely known. Here are just a few of the items that have popped up in the news regarding naloxone in the past few weeks:
Georgia last week became the latest in a series of states to pass laws increasing access to the lifesaving drug, joining Tennessee, Ohio, and Utah which have passed similar laws in the past few months (about 15 other states did so previously). New York State announced that it plans to use $5 million in drug forfeiture funds to equip all law enforcement officers in the state with naloxone kits, and within a few days 2,400 police agencies had requested them. Police departments from Crystal Lake, IL to South Bend, IN and Chelmsford, MA are clamoring to carry the medication, and Seaside Heights, NJ police used it to reverse an overdose for the second time in a month.
The District Attorney of Middlesex County, MA, hosted naloxone training for police and firefighters at the local country club. New Jersey, which had previously permitted only paramedics to administer the medication, expanded access to all trained EMTs.
Meanwhile, the New York Times notes that while the FDA has recently approved an EpiPen-like naloxone delivery device, it’s not yet known how much it will cost — some estimates say close to $500. While more access is better than less, as Matt Curtis noted in the Times’ editorial page, “What community advocates have decidedly not been asking for is an expensive, prescription-based naloxone device.” Indeed, Adweek reported that the injectable drug, which has been available as a generic for decades, has recently doubled in price.
Finally, leaders of National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) all took to the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine to advocate for expanded access to naloxone and addiction treatment. I’ll end this news roundup with that important point: naloxone, important as it is, is only one part of the puzzle.
Significantly reducing overdose deaths will take a concerted effort from partners across the spectrum — and a lot of the work will be more difficult than simply getting a cheap, reliable medication into the hands of people who can use it to reverse overdose. Case in point: the Capital Times reported that even though Wisconsin recently passed a law that provides limited immunity to people who call 911 to report an overdose, police still routinely arrest the person who actually overdosed.
This blog post was developed by Corey Davis, deputy director, the Network for Public Health Law – Southeastern Region at the National Health Law Program (NHeLP).
More information and resources on naloxone access can be found in the Network’s new Drug Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction section.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. This blog post does not represent the views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.