Controversy grows over opioid antagonist ‘Narcan’


Prescription drugs kill more people in Nevada than car crashes, but the population of people who overdose on prescription drugs continues to grow, and so does the debate over a medication that reverses the effects of the overdose.

Paramedics across the valley say they’ve kept busy responding to drug overdose emergency calls.  They said they always make sure to have Naloxone, the drug known as the “opioid antagonist” to treat patients who have overdosed.

“When we administer the Naloxone, it blocks those receptors. Therefore, it blocks the effects of the opiate which then allows the person typically to regain consciousness,” said Glen Simpson, with Community Ambulance.

Nevada has a law in place making Naloxone more accessible, but it’s limited.  Advocates say more needs to be done to save lives.

“We’re definitely seeing the calls,” according to Simpson.

Karen Castro, 8 News NOW Reporter: “Every day?”
Simpson: “Every day.”

While first responders carry Narcan at all times, compared to other states, accessibility to the general public is still very limited in Nevada.

In fact, the reversal drug can only be sold with a prescription.  Recent legislation also allows Naloxone to be prescribed to a third party.

Heidi Gustafson is the Director of the Foundation for Recovery.  She wants to see the Naloxone become more readily available.

“We can fix this whole thing by getting a standing order for the entire state through the governor’s office with the medical director signing off on it and what that would mean is you can basically walk in anywhere and get it,” Gustafson said.

As many as 14 states in the country are now selling Naloxone over the counter.  Critics say this will enable prescription drug abusers.

To that, Gustafson said, “no one has heard of anyone using it to supplement their drug use.  It just doesn’t happen.”

Like other states, Nevada has a Good Samaritan Law that gives immunity to the people who call 911 to help someone that is overdosing.  Non-profits organizations are also allowed to give out Naloxone for free, but the drug isn’t cheap.
The average price of a single dose of Naloxone is about $43, and health insurance does not always cover it.  Medical professionals say they’re even bearing the brunt of the rising cost.

“I think it will be safe to say that the price of Naloxone has maybe doubled within the past couple years,” Simpson said.  “We’re seeing supply and demand increase.

Law enforcement officers are also allowed to carry and administer Naloxone in Nevada.  Metro Police says the department has also considered Naloxone, but it says it can’t afford it.

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