Narcan, lifesaving opioid overdose medication, now available over the counter

Beginning this week, Americans will be able buy lifesaving Narcan online and over the counter at most pharmacy chains without a prescription. One Northern Virginia group encourages anyone who can afford it to keep some on hand.

Naloxone, branded as Narcan, is a medication that can rapidly reverse the effects of a known or suspected opioid overdose. Over the counter approval was given by the Food and Drug Administration in March of 2023. Previously, the drug, whose use has increased dramatically over the last decade, could only be prescribed by a pharmacist authorized to prescribe it.

“Harm Reduction organizations have been advocating for this for a really long time. And so it’s really exciting to see this finally happening,” Ginny Atwood Lovitt, the executive director of the Chris Atwood Foundation told WTOP.

She said she thinks Narcan should be a medicine cabinet staple for most families, especially if you can afford it.

She recommends having it for “anybody who has a preteen or teenager, or a child living at home, especially if they have friends coming over,” she said.

“It’s really important that parents have it, whether or not they think their own child is using opioids. The odds that they know somebody that is using — one of their friends, or a friend of a friend — is pretty high.”

Narcan, a nasal spray, is very easy to use and is extremely safe, even if the unresponsive person hasn’t actually overdosed on opioids. The consumer kit comes in a two-pack and costs around $45.

“EMTs, if they’re called to the scene of an emergency and they have somebody who’s unresponsive and they don’t know why, they will often administer Narcan, just to see if it works,” said Atwood Lovitt. “That’s how safe it is.”

She said anyone who travels in high-risk areas or has a loved one that uses opioids should carry Narcan with them.

Atwood Lovitt says she speaks from personal experience. Her brother died of an overdose when he was 21.

“I know — unfortunately personally — all too well that it is extremely distressing to need it and not have it,” she said. “I came home and found my brother overdosed, and I didn’t have it.”

The Chris Atwood Foundation, named in her brother’s honor, has helped people in recovery. Many staff members are former opioid addicts that are lucky to be alive, having survived overdoses because of Narcan.

“I would say over 50% of the peer support specialists who work for us now … we’ve got about a dozen of them, have been revived with Narcan at some point in their substance use history,” she said.

They are now certified peers who use their experience to help others get out of the “darkness of addiction.”

“You just never know the beautiful future that you can have ahead of you,” said Atwood Lovitt.

Narcan is made by Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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