Surgeon General Releases Advisory on Naloxone, an Opioid Overdose-Reversing Drug 
Urges more individuals to carry life-saving medication
Today, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, M.D., M.P.H., urged more Americans to carry a lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
 
The medication, naloxone, is already carried by many first responders, such as EMTs and police officers . The Surgeon General is now recommending that more individuals, including family, friends and those who are personally at risk for an opioid overdose, also keep the drug on hand.
 
An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. struggle with an opioid use disorder. Rates of opioid overdose deaths are rapidly increasing. Since 2010, the number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled from more than 21,000 to more than 42,000 in 2016, with the sharpest increase occurring among deaths related to illicitly made fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids).  
 
Opioids are a class of drugs that include medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, which are commonly prescribed to treat pain. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is approved for treating severe pain, typically post-surgical or advanced cancer pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related harms are a result of illicitly made fentanyl.
 
Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose – that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” said Surgeon General Adams. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home .”
 
I care for patients daily who are at increased risk of overdose, and the ability to provide a product which reduces their risk is a true public health value ,” said Chris Harlow, President of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association. “ Let today’s message from the United States Surgeon General serve as a call to action for all pharmacists to continue the great work we do in Kentucky.
 
Harlow was the first pharmacist in Kentucky to have an active protocol to dispense naloxone. He now heads KPhA which has a unique naloxone dispensing program available through a joint effort with the Kentucky Pharmacy Research and Education Foundation and the Kentucky Department of Public Health. The program uses a mobile pharmacy to dispense naloxone for free throughout the Commonwealth.
 
Naloxone, an FDA-approved medication that can be delivered via nasal mist or injection, is not a long-term solution, but it can temporarily suspend the effects of the overdose until emergency responders arrive.
 
To manage opioid addiction and prevent future overdoses, increased naloxone availability must occur in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder ,” the Surgeon General said.
 
All states have passed laws to increase access to naloxone and, in most states, you can walk into a pharmacy and request naloxone even if you don’t already have a prescription. In addition, most states have laws designed to protect health care professionals for prescribing and dispensing naloxone from civil and criminal liabilities as well as Good Samaritan laws to protect people who administer naloxone or call for help during an opioid overdose emergency. 

Kentucky pharmacists have had the authority to dispense naloxone pursuant to a physician protocol since 2015 when Senate Bill 192 was passed. Since that time, 2,180 pharmacists licensed in Kentucky became naloxone certified and over 360 pharmacies have a protocol in place to dispense naloxone. The Kentucky Pharmacists Association offers a continuing education that satisfies the board requirements to become naloxone certified. The cost is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. More information can be found on the KPhA website . If your pharmacy does not currently have a protocol in place, there are resources available on the Board of Pharmacy webpage .

As this announcement makes its way through the news, it is expected that there will be increased interest from the public. To increase naloxone access to Kentuckians, KPhA is working with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to administer a portion of the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE) Grant. KPhA is looking for pharmacies in counties across the state to partner in this effort. “ Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to make a huge difference in communities across the state to save lives and address the opioid epidemic ” said Jody Jaggers, Director of Pharmacy Emergency Preparedness at KPhA. “ The KORE grant offers a great opportunity to be fairly compensated for education many pharmacists are already providing while ensuring more patients have access to life saving naloxone and quality training on how to use it .” If you would like more information on the KPhA-KORE grant contact Jody Jaggers at jjaggers@kphanet.org .

Naloxone is covered by most insurance plans and, for those without coverage, may be available at low or no cost through local public health programs or through retailer and manufacturer discounts. It is easy to use, safe to administer and widely available.

Today’s Surgeon General advisory on naloxone is part of the administration’s ongoing effort to respond to the sharp increase among drug overdose deaths. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data showing a rise in emergency department visits for opioid overdoses. From July 2016 through September 2017, opioid overdoses increased 30 percent in all parts of the U.S.

Expanding the use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is a key part of the public health response to the opioid crisis, along with effective prevention, treatment and recovery programs for opioid use disorder. Research shows a combination of medication, counseling and behavioral therapy, also known as Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, can help people achieve long-term recovery. 

For more information on how to get help, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go to https://www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov to find a treatment center.

To learn more about how individuals can recognize and respond to an opioid overdose, visit www.surgeongeneral.gov to read more.
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