Understanding Naloxone’s Role in Mitigating Opioid Abuse

Papatya Tankut, R.Ph. Vice President of Pharmacy Affairs for CVS Health, explains the myths and facts about naloxone’s role in treating opioid overdoses.

You may have noticed a recent increase in news coverage about naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan), a lifesaving drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. More police and fire departments are carrying naloxone as standard procedure, and evolving state regulations now allow pharmacies in dozens of states to dispense the drug without a prescription. This is great news for public health advocates, concerned family and friends of those struggling with addiction and medical professionals.

Unfortunately, a growing myth about naloxone suggests that the increased availability of the medication encourages drug use. This simply isn’t true. In fact, reversing an opioid overdose using naloxone not only gives a patient a second chance at life, it also opens the door to additional treatment options that he or she may not have considered previously.

Naloxone is safe and effective, and has no potential for abuse. It’s also very easy to administer either intra-nasally or via intra-muscular injection, and requires just a few minutes of training from a doctor or pharmacist. It’s important to remember that naloxone cannot be self-administered during an overdose, and cannot be taken before drug use to avoid an overdose.

While the lifesaving properties of naloxone are well known to the medical community, most people don’t know what it is or how it works. In fact, in a recent poll of 2,000 American voters, we asked whether respondents had heard of the drug. Only 36 percent said that they had, with 53 percent reporting that they had not, and 11 percent weren’t sure. Yet according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, a majority of Americans - 56 percent – said that they have been personally touched by the opioid abuse epidemic.Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, November 2015. http://kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-november-2015/

Naloxone is an important tool in the fight against opioid abuse, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We believe we can make the greatest gains by focusing on education and prevention. So in partnership with law enforcement, educators and community advocates, we’ve developed programs that can help, including:

Medication Disposal for Safer Communities - Through this program, police departments can apply to receive a drug collection unit to help their communities safely discard unwanted medications, including controlled substances.

Pharmacists Teach - Our “One Choice Changes Everything” presentation provides teens with the facts about prescription drug abuse. Our pharmacists volunteer to visit high school health classes and give a powerful presentation that includes stories of real youths whose lives were forever changed by their choice to abuse prescription painkillers.

For more information about our opioid abuse mitigation efforts, visit our Prescription Drug Abuse information center