A non-addictive opioid antagonist becomes available Aug. 28 for Missouri residents to block the effects of an overdose. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, can be administered either nasally or by injection and works by blocking opioid receptors in the spine.
On June 21, Gov. Nixon signed House Bill 1568 to expand access to naloxone hydrochloride by allowing pharmacists to administer the drug under a physician’s protocol or by prescription. This will now allow someone to be prescribed the drug by request, the same way someone can obtain a vaccine.
Terry Barks is the Clinical Information specialist for Mercy Hospital. He says the purpose of the legislation is to get the drug in the hands of those with loved ones who are addicted to heroin or other opiates, so they can have it ready for an emergency situation.
“It does little good to put the drug in the hand of the individual who might be subject to overdose themselves, because they’re not in a position to self-administer it once they get to that point,” Barks said.
The legislation comes in response to the increasing number of opioid overdoses across the country, including cases in Missouri.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that there were 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in the U.S. in 2014.
Naloxone hydrochloride was recently approved by the FDA for intra-nasal use, and therefore, is now eligible for MO HealthNet (MHD) reimbursement.
According to the MHD, currently 10,697 of its customers have been diagnosed with opioid dependence.
Barks says emergency responders have had both the injection and nasal form of the drug available to them for a few years, but this is the first time it is available to non-healthcare professionals.
“We use naloxone diagnostically,” Barks said. “If somebody comes into the emergency room unconscious and they were just found down and nobody really knows what happened to them, they’re going give them naloxone to see if it was opiate.”
This is possible, because, barring an allergic reaction; the drug has no negative side effects and serves one purpose: to prevent an opioid related death.
Even if someone has had a heart attack or a diabetic seizure and is given naloxone by accident, it will have no negative impact on the individual.
“Nobody is going to question your need for it,” he said. “It has no abuse potential whatsoever.”
The drug simply displaces floating opiates from opioid receptors in the body.
Organizations are even allowed to carry and store naloxone without a prescription or drug distributor’s license and will not be held liable for good faith use of the drug.
Barks said it will be a vital addition to the first aid kit, and buy overdoes victims more time.
“EMS personnel may be there in minutes, but when someone is not breathing, minutes may not be good enough,” he said.
Opponents of the bill expressed concern the drug would enable users to overdose on opioids knowing` that naloxone would save their life.