By Tibian Ahmed and Lindsay Andarakis
As of March 3, the over-the-counter distribution of Naloxone, a drug that reverses heroin overdoses, reached almost 1600 pharmacies in New York State. This distribution was approved in January of 2016.
According to the American Pharmacists Association’s March 3, 2016 report, “New York expands Naloxone program to independent pharmacies,” The Harm Reduction Coalition that gets funds from the state Department of Health, is going to allow the distribution to 750 independent pharmacies outside of New York City, as well as 480 CVS pharmacies and 460 Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies.
Naloxone was first available as an injection and now is available as an intranasal spray.
A study provided by Kathryn Kaplan, Media Specialist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows that there was “a 1,170% increase in prescriptions of Naloxone dispensed from retail pharmacies in the U.S. between the fourth quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2015.” This suggests that prescribing Naloxone in outpatient environments could accompany community focused Naloxone programs.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s report, “Overdose Death Rates,” revised in December 2015, over 10,000 people died nationwide from heroin overdoses in 2014.
“I’ve got five outpatient programs on Long Island and we have about 1400 people currently in treatment in our outpatient programs, doing about 15,000 total visits on a monthly basis and of those 1400 people currently in treatment, 35% of them are under the age of 25 and opiate dependency is the primary diagnosis,” Mark Epley, CEO of Seafield Rehabilitation Center in Westhampton Beach said.
When asked if the availability of Naloxone would help combat heroin overdoses or make the problem worse, Bazlah Chaudhry, a pharmacist on Long Island, said, “It can go either way. On one hand it’s great, it may save a life due to a potential overdose. On the other hand, people may now become more comfortable trying higher doses, as they know an antidote is readily available in the pharmacy. Statistically speaking it should lower the number of deaths.”
An FDA report released in November 2015, states, “If Naloxone is administered quickly, it can counter the overdose effects, usually within two minutes.”
According to a November 2015 report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the FDA-approved intranasal product could reduce the thousands of deaths due to heroin overdoses each year, and “give patients a second chance to enter into long term addiction treatment.”
Joe Westenbrger, a paramedic at the Centereach Fire Department has dealt with heroin addicts and is conflicted between whether it will help or cause a greater problem.
“I think many people you talk to will now believe that Narcan will make addicts feel safe. Believing that they can use, and Narcan will always be there to save them,” said Westenberger.
Westenberger said that currently, there is a lack of access to recovery centers and rehabilitation centers that severely limits the options for those suffering from heroin addiction.
“Addiction is a very touchy subject, especially with heroin since we put so much time and effort into “saving them”…for them just to fall back into the life again,” Westenberger said.