Amid surging heroin-related overdose deaths, the AIDS Resource Center Ohio Pharmacy in Dayton announced Wednesday that it has begun dispensing the overdose revival drug naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan, without a prescription to friends and family members of people suffering from addiction.
Increasing access to Narcan is part of ARC Ohio’s strategy to fight the negative consequences of drug abuse, including the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections by intravenous drug users, officials said.
“Naloxone is a proven harm reduction strategy and life-saving tool to help in the fight against drug overdose” said Bill Hardy, ARC Ohio’s president and CEO. “Our goal is to help save lives.”
On average, about five people die each day in Ohio from drug overdoses, including opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers, which are the leading cause of most overdose deaths, according to ARC Ohio.
At least 264 unintentional drug overdose deaths were reported in Montgomery County last year, up from 226 in 2013, according to the latest figures from the county coroner’s office.
ARC Ohio, 1222 S. Patterson Blvd., is one of a number of small independent pharmacies that have joined larger chains, including Walgreens and CVS, in expanding nonprescription access to Narcan in some parts of the country to fight the epidemic.
CVS has expanded nonprescription access to Narcan at pharmacies in 12 states, not including Ohio. The drug is also available with a prescription at some Walgreens locations, including stores in Hamilton County.
In some areas, health departments, rehab clinics and hospitals provide Narcan to patients after they’re treated for overdoses, but ARC Ohio is the only pharmacy or public program currently providing the drug in the Miami Valley, officials said.
First responders and law enforcement officers are equipped with the drug for emergency runs, and Narcan was administered 74,000 times in Ohio from 2003 to 2012, according to figures provided by ARC Ohio.
The drug, which can be administered by injection or nasal spray, reverses the effects of an opioid overdose within seconds, which is the key to saving lives, said Gabe Jones, epidemiologist at the Clark County Combined Health District, who supports wider availability of Narcan.
“Just getting it in the hands of more people is definitely going to be a benefit in a life-or-death situation because timing is the most important thing,” said Jones, who explained Narcan works by blocking receptors in the brain from the effects of opioids that can stop breathing. “If you don’t have to wait for an ambulance to come an administer the Narcan that could save a life.”
Some critics have claimed that wider access to Narcan could promote drug use by giving users a sense of security in case of an overdose.
But Jones believes the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“Chances are its not going to be the addicts themselves that come to pick up the drug,” he said. “Even if they do, they may end up saving someone else’s life.”