Panel Backs Moving Opioid Antidote Narcan over the Counter

A life-saving opioid overdose drug – Narcan – could be hitting store shelves. The overdose-reversing drug naloxone should be made available over the counter to aid the national response to the opioid crisis, U.S. health advisors said. 

The panel of Food and Drug Administration experts voted unanimously in favor of the switch after a full day of presentations and discussions centered on whether untrained users would be able to safely and effectively use the nasal spray in emergency situations.

The Narcan nasal spray can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes. It has a 95 percent success rate when used correctly.

The drug has been a key tool in combating an opioid crisis that worsened during the Covid pandemic. Between 2020 and 2021, opioid overdose deaths increased by 17 percent. 

In recent years, the rise of fentanyl has added to the U.S.’s death toll. Currently, naloxone is available for emergency medical providers in all 50 states. Pharmacies in most states can provide Narcan upon request.

That could soon change. If the FDA approves the recommendation, naloxone could be available in vending machines, schools, convenience stores, and supermarkets as soon as this summer. 

The agency is expected to make its final decision by the end of March. For now, it is unclear how much it would cost as an over-the-counter product. 

The recommendation is getting a lot of support. Health advocates believe that making naloxone readily available could help fight stigma and save lives. 

Some FDA advisers want naloxone’s instructions and packaging to be clearer. But overall, advisers are pushing the agency to move quickly. 

In 2021, more than 100,000 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S. Now, naloxone — which is widely viewed as the best treatment for opioid overdoses — could make a bigger difference in fighting the ongoing opioid crisis.

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