For the last decade, overdoses of opiates and similar drugs have advanced at an accelerating pace, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. Improving access to the drug naloxone, which counteracts the effects of overdoses, is one of the only interventions proven to save lives.
Programs that have distributed naloxone to drug users, their family members and friends, and others who are likely to witness an overdose have reversed at least 10,000 overdoses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, slashing overdose rates in participating communities. Just this past week, Eric Holder lauded the more recent — and also promising — efforts to equip police and firefighters with naloxone.
Why aren’t these programs making a noticeable dent in the national overdose crisis? They are still too few in number, reaching too few people. A major reason for this is that the Food and Drug Administration classifies naloxone as a prescription drug. Technically, this means that resource-strapped programs should employ medical professionals to write naloxone scripts — no easy feat, as our research found scarce willing providers. Before the drug can be prescribed, state regulations typically require an in-person examination of the potential overdose victim. Tough luck for a drug user’s mother trying to get a naloxone prescription to avert the worst-case scenario, and a regulatory swamp for police departments looking to equip their officers.