Drug addiction and overdose are serious public health issues. Since the 1990s, rates of opioid abuse, including prescription pain medications and heroin, have skyrocketed across the nation. Between 1999 and 2013, an almost fourfold increase in overdose deaths was attributed to prescription pain medications. Heroin overdose deaths increased 39 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Opioid overdose slows breathing and ultimately a person who experiences an overdose may stop breathing entirely. However, there is an antidote for an opioid overdose: naloxone (trade name Narcan). Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which quickly counters the effect of an opioid overdose.
Community members can be trained to administer this lifesaving drug either through a spray in a person's nose or an injection. Since 1996, community groups and health-care professionals have partnered to create naloxone distribution programs. These groups have provided 152,000 kits to lay persons, which have led to over 26,000 reported overdose reversals.
In March, Kentucky legislators took action to expand naloxone access and fight opioid overdose in our communities. As part of Senate Bill 192, Kentucky pharmacists were granted the ability to dispense naloxone under a physician-approved protocol.
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To initiate the dispensing of naloxone in this manner — without an individual prescription — pharmacists must receive training in the use of naloxone for opioid overdose prevention and apply for certification from the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy.
The provision for pharmacists to dispense naloxone via protocol will expand access to this lifesaving drug and promote collaboration between pharmacists and other members of the multidisciplinary public-health team to help ensure effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of opioid overdose.
Naloxone is a lifesaving drug in the hands of active opioid users and their loved ones. Talk to your local pharmacists today about their plans to increase access to naloxone and prevent opioid overdose deaths in Kentucky.
Amanda T. Fallin is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing; Trish R. Freeman is clinical associate professor at University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy and president-elect of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association.