CVS pharmacy is making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available to Arizonans without a doctor’s prescription.
It’s a prefilled easy-to-use nasal spray – a single squirt to help save a life. Arizona is the 41st state to make naloxone available to the general public this way.
“We believe this increased access across the state will help save lives and give more people a chance to get the help they need for recovery,” Robert Marshall, the regional manager for CVS Pharmacy said during a news conference Tuesday.
“It’s no secret that there’s an opioid crisis in this country,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office helped orchestrate the move, said. “We know that every single day, approximately 90 Americans are dying from drug overdoses.”
Cindy Sierzchula’s 17-year-old daughter was one of them.
Courtney died of an accidental overdose of OxyContin a little more than 10 years ago. Sierzchula said she had never heard of the drug back then, but she knows all about it now and wants to help raise awareness so other parents might not have to endure the loss of a child.
“Just one mistake cost [Courtney] her life,” she said. “OxyContin is an extremely dangerous and addictive drug. It’s as close to heroin as you can get. A lot of people will move on from OxyContin to heroin because it’s a lot cheaper.”
Sierzchula said her daughter snorted crushed OxyContin that had been given to her.
“She said she didn’t feel good. She laid [sic] down and she never woke up – just like that.”
A dose of naloxone, also known as Narcan, might have saved Courtney’s life.
"Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist -- meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Naloxone is an extremely safe medication that only has a noticeable effect in people with opioids in their systems."
The value of naloxone is something Bryan Jeffries, president of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, has known for years.
“One of the most significant calls those of us who have been doing this for a long time know of, that is the call of the overdose,” he said. “For 30 years, we’ve carried this drug … in our med boxes, readily available. We have saved thousands upon thousands of lives as a result of administering it and bringing people back from these overdoses.”
Time is of the essence in emergency situations, which is just one reason first responders support making Narcan available without a prescription.
“I can tell you that there are times, unfortunately, where, as first responders, we can’t always be there quick enough to make a difference,” he said. “Having this drug in the hands of family members and other people in the community can really make the difference and probably save thousands upon thousands of lives.”
When it comes to opioids, there’s an inherent danger of overdose, and not just for people who take them. There was an incident in Ohio just last week.
“There was a police officer that was involved in an arrest and he had touched some fentanyl dust and he ended up having to require several doses of this medication in order to save his life,” Brnovich said.
It took four doses.
Brnovich said his office is doing “everything we can to be proactive when it comes to the opioid crisis in this country.”
While Narcan can help save lives, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Education is essential.
People tend to believe that drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, are safe because doctors prescribe them. Kids sneak pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets, believing they will get a harmless high.
Sierzchula knows it’s anything but harmless.
Making Narcan available without a prescription is just one step to save lives.
It works by reversing that respiratory depression caused by an overdose. The type of drug does not matter; Narcan's mechanism is the same.
“The way the drug works is that imagine that this opioid is a key and it has to go into a lock that is a receptor site in your brain. This drug gets in between the key and the lock and stops it from going inside immediately,” Jeffries explained. “It works very quickly -- in fact, almost instantly -- once it’s administered.”
The larger the opioid dose, the less time you have to administer the Narcan. Response time is key. That’s why it’s important to have it available.
“There’s a multitude of reasons why you want to maybe have this on hand,” Brnovich said.
“This is a good thing that we’re doing here because we need to do something to save our kids, to save our loved ones," Sierzchula said. "It gives us hope that our kids or our loved ones might be saved."
Brnovich said his office will work with other pharmacies interested in doing something like CVS.
“This is a true testament to both the public and the private sector coming together to solve some of the most challenging problems we’re facing in the state of Arizona,” Rep. Heather Carter said. “Nobody is going to solve this problem alone. We must work together.”
There are more than 190 CVS pharmacies in Arizona. Narcan, which comes in a two-pack, runs about $145 and is covered by some insurance plans.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS