Over-the-counter Narcan may be too expensive for some people, advocates fear
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Narcan will be available over the counter at U.S. pharmacies as soon as next week. That's the nasal spray that can reverse an overdose. The company that makes the drug is shipping it out today. From member station WBUR, Deborah Becker reports it's the first time Narcan will be available nationwide without a prescription.
DEBORAH BECKER, BYLINE: The company that makes Narcan, Emergent BioSolutions, is shipping out hundreds of thousands of two-dose packages for over-the-counter and online sales. Emergent senior vice president, Paul Williams, says this follows FDA approval of over-the-counter Narcan sales to try to stem rising overdose deaths.
PAUL WILLIAMS: When you think about the opioid crisis continuing to get worse, the number of opioid-related deaths continuing to increase, especially in the last couple of years, expanding access for Narcan to be much broader to folks is critically important.
BECKER: Narcan is the brand name for the drug naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose in minutes. Generic versions of naloxone are expected in stores next year. Major retailers Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS Health all say Narcan will be available in their stores and online in September. They also say pharmacists will be on hand to explain how to identify an overdose and when to administer the spray. The suggested price for consumers for a two-dose carton is 44.99, a price that some say is expensive. Sheila Vakharia is with the Drug Policy Alliance.
SHEILA VAKHARIA: For some people, $44 is a small price to pay to have access to the medication. But there are, of course, going to be people for whom $44 is out of reach.
BECKER: The suggested price is less for purchasers in the so-called public interest market, such as municipalities and nonprofits that distribute Narcan to the public for free. An FDA study says in 2021, most of the 17 million doses of naloxone that were distributed in the U.S. were by non-retail groups. Kevin Roy, with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit fighting addiction, says free doses are still needed.
KEVIN ROY: We can't make the mistake of assuming that the problem is solved because it's available over the counter. So it is a tool in the toolbox to solving the crisis, but it certainly is not the only one that's important.
BECKER: Roy also says resources are still needed for addiction medication and treatment. Before this, Narcan was available only by prescription, although some states allowed it to be sold at pharmacy counters at a customer's request. Some insurers say they will still cover the cost of the spray. Last year, the U.S. set a record, reporting more than 109,000 opioid overdose deaths.
For NPR News, I'm Deborah Becker in Boston.
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