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Understanding the Impact of Narcan Availability in Stores: What You Need to Know

Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication, is now being shipped to drugstore and grocery chains across the United States for over-the-counter purchase. Major retailers like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Rite Aid are making Narcan available both online and in-store. This move comes as public health experts emphasize the importance of accessibility to Narcan in order to combat the rising rates of opioid overdoses.

Previously, Narcan was primarily used by emergency personnel and street outreach teams. However, there is now a push to make Narcan more readily available in public spaces such as libraries, subways, dorms, corner delis, and even street vending machines. The goal is to make Narcan a common item in medicine cabinets as well, as it can potentially save lives in situations where party drugs like cocaine and counterfeit Xanax pills may be laced with deadly opioids like fentanyl.

Here are key points you need to know about purchasing Narcan:

How Narcan Works

Narcan is a nasal spray version of the drug naloxone. It works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain, thereby reversing an overdose. Common signs of overdose include slowed or stopped breathing and pinpoint pupils. Naloxone is considered safe enough that using it in a potential overdose situation is preferred over hesitating. Each box of Narcan contains two nasal spray devices, each filled with four milligrams of naloxone. The device is inserted into the nostril and the plunger is depressed. In most cases, one dose is enough to reverse an overdose within two to three minutes, but in areas with potent fentanyl supplies, a second dose may be needed.

Cost of Narcan

The cost of Narcan may play a significant role in its adoption. The manufacturer, Emergent BioSolutions, has set the price for a two-dose box at $44.99. While this may be affordable for some individuals, addiction policy experts are concerned that those who are financially insecure or at a higher risk of overdose may not be able to afford it. Insurance coverage for Narcan used to be readily available when it was only available by prescription. However, coverage for over-the-counter drugs is typically more limited. Some state Medicaid programs have already announced that they will cover Narcan when it becomes available over the counter, but this may not be the case for all states.

Emergent BioSolutions has stated that prices will be lower for bulk sales to public interest groups and state health departments. These organizations will then distribute Narcan to local outreach organizations and clinics.

Finding Narcan in Stores

Retailers often place pricier or easily stolen products behind a counter or in a locked case. However, experts in behavioral health are concerned that customers may be hesitant to ask store employees for Narcan due to the stigma associated with drug use and addiction. Rite Aid has stated that Narcan will be available at the pharmacy counter and in pain care aisles, while CVS plans to have it near the front register. Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS also offer the option to purchase Narcan online, providing greater privacy for customers.

Despite the availability of Narcan, stigma surrounding drug use and addiction persists. However, there has been a shift in public perception over the past decade, with more people now willing to carry naloxone.

What’s Next?

While Narcan is currently the only over-the-counter overdose reversal medication, more affordable alternatives are expected to enter the market soon. For example, a generic naloxone spray by Teva Pharmaceuticals is still available by prescription and is typically covered by public and private insurance policies. Some states allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Additionally, Harm Reduction Therapeutics has received over-the-counter approval for RiVive, a low-cost naloxone spray expected to be available in early 2024. There are also other forms of naloxone available, including higher-concentration options and those loaded in syringes, which require a prescription.

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