Washington public health officials have been trying to get Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses, to as many people as possible. The state’s top doctor aided this push Wednesday by making Naloxone available to anyone through a pharmacy.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer, signed a “standing order” for Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan. The order is statewide and allows any person or organization to obtain the medication from a pharmacy without a prescription.
“Making it easier to access and distribute this lifesaving medication to people who need it is an important step in addressing the opioid crisis and reducing overdose deaths in our state,” Lofy said in a statement.
The number of overdose deaths continues to increase in King County and across the state, largely driven by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic narcotic much more potent than heroin. In King County last year, 415 people died from alcohol and drug use. In 2017, 379 people died, according to a yearly report from Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Of the 710 overdose deaths statewide in 2018, 213 involved a synthetic opioid like fentanyl, which is turning up in heroin and other street drugs. According to Public Health in King County, fatal overdoses from heroin and prescription opioids have stabilized, while fentanyl-related deaths doubled since 2017, killing 66 people last year.
Naloxone, which is given as an injection or a nasal spray to someone who is overdosing, temporarily blocks the effects of opioids. It’s safe and doesn’t have serious side effects if given to someone who is not overdosing from opioids, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).
Naloxone is covered by most health-insurance plans and can be purchased by those without insurance. One kit with two doses in nasal-spray form costs about $150. Washington residents covered by Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program, can get Naloxone at no cost. The state encourages people to call a pharmacy ahead of time.
DOH began a program in February to distribute Naloxone kits statewide, and expects to pass out 11,000 during the program’s first year.
The order also makes it possible for organizations working with people who might need the medication to get it. Any group that gets Naloxone from a pharmacy is asked to notify DOH, which will keep a list of organizations and notify them of changes to the standing order.