Life Saver? FDA Considers Making Overdose Reversing Drug More Accessible
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration will hold apublic hearing in Washington DC to discuss making the life-saving opioid overdose reverser naloxone more accessible. Currently, naloxone is only available by prescription, which significantly limits the drug’s potential to save addicts’ lives. Prominent overdose prevention experts will attend this groundbreaking hearing, and will likely suggest making the medication available over the counter.
Naloxone, a nonaddictive drug, can immediately reverse overdoses that involve opioids. Even if opioids like heroin and OxyContin are combined with alcohol and benzodiazepines like Xanax -- which is often true for the majority of opioid overdose cases -- naloxone works just as effectively.
Naloxone is regularly administered by emergency room physicians and paramedics to patients undergoing opioid overdoses, and is already known to have saved tens of thousands of lives since its FDA approval in 1971. Regardless, this life-saving drug is only accessible by a prescription. Making naloxone available over the counter, paired with the 911 Good Samaritan Policies -- which protects 911 callers reporting overdoses from facing criminal charges for drug possession -- can save even more lives.
Grant Smith, the federal policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release:
“Given the enormous death toll we are seeing from opioid overdoses, it is both encouraging and crucial that the FDA has begun examining how to build on naloxone's track record as a life-saving medication... Making naloxone available over the counter is a regulatory change that is urgently needed and cannot continue to be overlooked.”
The FDA hearing is a response to the rising number of deaths by opioid overdoses like heroin and OxyContin, which has been soaring to unprecedented levels in the past years. The CDC reports that opioid pain relievers “were involved in 14,800 deaths (73.8%) of the 20,044 prescription drug overdose deaths in 2008.” An FDA decision to offer the medication over the counter will dramatically lower the death toll.