Experts Panic Over A Shortage Of The Opioid Overdose Antidote

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Health care professionals are warning that poor access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, commonly called Narcan, may lead to more opioid-related deaths.

Matt Darusz, a South Carolina resident who previously worked for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures naloxone, fears rising prices are adversely impacting the availability of the drug. Pharmacists in South Carolina say that while they can fill a naloxone prescription by the next day for a patient, they rarely have a supply of the overdose antidote on hand, reports FOX 57.

Darusz says this lack of immediate access may be exacerbating the opioid epidemic, which claimed more than 600 lives in South Carolina in 2016. He argues the supply shortage is driven primarily by a more than six fold increase in the price for the opioid antidote over the past two years. The price of two injectable doses of naloxone has climbed from $690 in 2014 to roughly $4,500.

“If you walk to a CVS or a Walgreens or a Walmart you can’t get certain products to reverse the effects of opioid,” Darusz told FOX 57. “These are lives, you cant put a price on life, and that’s what I feel like we are doing.”

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50.

Edward-Elmhurst Health, a regional hospital system in Illinois, recently announced a policy shift for the new year that will encourage doctors to co-prescribe naloxone with certain dosages of opioid painkillers. Doctors hope the practice can raise awareness about the risks of opioid dependence and help save lives in a state mired in the addiction crisis.

Nationally, the American Medical Association has backed co-prescribing of opioids and Narcan for several years for patients taking opioids with other medications. A study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed hospitalization rates related to opioids for patients given Narcan with their painkiller prescriptions were lower than for patients without access to Narcan.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.

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