Over-the-Counter Narcan Could Save More Lives. But Price and Stigma Are Obstacles.
The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the United States, leaving in its wake countless deaths, shattered families, and hopelessness. However, there is a solution, Narcan. Also known as naloxone, Narcan is a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, saving a person’s life in the process. Currently, Narcan is available only by prescription, but there is a concerted effort to make it available over-the-counter(OTC) in pharmacies, which could result in more lives being saved. There are, however, two major obstacles in the way, the price of Narcan and the stigma surrounding its use.
Narcan works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, effectively blocking the effects of opioids. In doing so, it can save a person’s life when they are experiencing an opioid overdose, allowing emergency responders or bystanders to act quickly and get them to medical care. With the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017, the push to make Narcan more accessible through OTC access has gained even more attention.
The prospect of more accessible Narcan has been met with both excitement and fear. On one hand, Narcan is considered by many as the most effective tool in combating the opioid epidemic. It has been used successfully in emergency rooms and by first responders for years. It is also easy to administer, requiring no specialized medical training to use properly. However, on the other hand, there is a prevailing fear that OTC Narcan is enabling those with addiction rather than addressing the root causes of opioid addiction.
One of the main arguments in favor of making Narcan more accessible is that it can save more lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 47,000 overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018, and the number keeps rising every year. Experts argue that making Narcan more accessible could result in more people using it in life-threatening situations, leading to more successful overdose reversals and fewer deaths.
Another argument in favor of OTC Narcan is that it eliminates the need for a prescription, which ultimately saves time, money, and resources. Currently, most Narcan is only available through specialized training to healthcare providers, who must then write a prescription for it. This leads to unnecessary delays in treatment, especially for those who can’t afford regular access to healthcare or for those living in rural areas where accessing healthcare is challenging.
However, the high price of Narcan is one of the most significant obstacles limiting its effectiveness, and making it OTC may not solve this problem. Narcan is not cheap, and the cost varies between insurance providers and states. With prices reaching up to $60 per dose of Narcan, it is not affordable for many people who would benefit from it the most. This presents a real issue for addiction and recovery communities who may not have access to insurance or the funds needed to purchase it out of pocket.
The pricing issue with Narcan is a result of economics. The company that produces Narcan, Adapt Pharma, has a monopoly on the product. Although there have been efforts to reduce the cost of Narcan, it is still out of reach for many people. Although some healthcare providers can get Narcan at a reduced rate or for free through various programs, many who need it the most cannot access it.
There is also an issue of stigma surrounding Narcan. Many people view Narcan as a crutch that enables drug users and “rewarding bad behaviour” rather than a life-saving tool. This attitude prevents some people from seeking out Narcan and those around the person who overdosed from responding appropriately in an emergency.
To overcome this, it is essential to remind the public that addiction is a disease and not a moral failure. Those struggling with addiction deserve empathy and access to vital resources for recovery, such as Narcan. Encouraging Narcan usage as a preventative tool can help reduce the stigma surrounding it and make it more accessible to those who need it.
In conclusion, making Narcan more readily available could save countless lives, but there are significant obstacles to overcome. The high cost of Narcan is a real issue for addiction and recovery communities, and making it OTC may not solve this problem. However, efforts to reduce the cost of Narcan must continue to ensure that everyone has access to the medication regardless of their financial background. Overcoming the stigma surrounding Narcan is also essential, and we need to remember that Narcan is a life-saving tool that should not be viewed as enabling addiction. By making Narcan OTC and reducing its price, the medical community can win the fight against the opioid epidemic and save more lives.