Miraculous, Over-the-Counter, Overdose Protection Drug Coming to California Pharmacies

In hushed tones, Janice (not her real name) slipped a desperate woman a blue-zippered pouch containing a vial of naloxone and two syringes. The scene played out like something illicit because, in Janice’s Southern red state, it is. Despite the risks involved with distributing a medication without a prescription, Janice, a Florida-based overdose prevention advocate, continues to do so because she knows it saves lives. Florida, like many other states, has no law allowing for the distribution of naloxone.

Overdose has surpassed even motor vehicle accidents to become the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., with 38,329 overdose deaths in 2010 alone. The mortality rate has increased 102 percent in a decade, escalating overdose to a national crisis. Naloxone, the only drug of its class, has been safely used to reverse opiate overdose since 1971, but in many areas of the country it is impossible to access outside of an ambulance or emergency room.

In light of this national epidemic, several states have enacted legislation to combat the rising tide of opiate overdose-related deaths. The latest legislative effort passed yesterday in California when Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1535. The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom and sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and the California Pharmacists Association, will enable California pharmacists to provide naloxone directly to consumers without the need for a prescription. The bill passed with widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans, illustrating a growing urgency to address the overdose crisis in new and innovative ways.  

California joins Rhode Island, New Mexico and Washington, states that have used similar laws to provide drug users and their families with on-demand access to naloxone from local pharmacies. New York and Vermont have also recently passed similar legislation. Currently in California, naloxone can only be obtained by prescription or from one of a handful of poorly funded, community-based organizations that are struggling to meet the demand for this life-saving medication.  

Upon experiencing an opiate overdose, a person can slip from respiratory depression to full cardiac arrest within two to four minutes, often before police or paramedics can arrive. The ability to get naloxone from a local pharmacy will enable families to have this life-saving drug on hand when and where it is needed most—at the onset of an overdose.  

Although AB 1535 becomes law on Jan. 1, 2015, guidelines must be developed by the state’s pharmacy and medical boards before consumers can expect to purchase naloxone directly from pharmacies. Price has yet to be determined; a similar program in Rhode Island charges approximately $25 for injectable naloxone and $40 for a nasal spray form.  

To access naloxone from one of the 181 overdose prevention training sites currently listed in the U.S., consult the Overdose Prevention Program Locator, maintained by Boston Hope and Recovery Coalition.


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