LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As opioid-related deaths reach new and haunting records each year, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisors recommend the medicine used to reverse these overdoses be more accessible.
Last week, two FDA advisory committees voted unanimously to make naloxone, the generic version of Narcan, available over the counter. Narcan is an opioid overdose antidote that is typically administered via spray through the nasal cavity.
The medicine was administered twice in the past six years to Christy Del Santo, a Mississippi native turned Las Vegan.
“I was dead for both instances,” Del Santo said inside Roseman University’s Summerlin campus Tuesday morning. “It shook me, but not to the point where it shook me straight.”
The 39-year-old’s drug of choice is heroin.
“I was a party girl, so whatever I could do, I just wanted to do a little bit more,” Del Santo said. “Things just weren’t getting better in my life, and I wanted to escape. I knew what I was doing.”
Now, Del Santo said she is over 30 days sober and on the road to recovery after her most recent overdose this year. She also is the mother of her two-month-old son, Alexander-Kai.
But, she almost did not get to experience motherhood.
“It took paramedics to inject me with two shots and two nasal sprays both times, and I came back,” Del Santo said.
If approved by the FDA commissioner, people like Del Santo could go to grocery stores, gas stations, big box stores, and potentially even vending machines to purchase the life-saving spray without needing to go through a pharmacist.
In recent months, Del Santo has gotten her supply through Roseman University’s EMPOWER program. Dr. Farzad Kamyar, MD is a psychiatrist specializing in substance use disorders and, through this program, works with pregnant women and new mothers who use opioids.
“From a medical perspective, it’s like, absolutely. That’s like having insulin,” Dr. Kamyar said inside the EMPOWER office Tuesday morning when asked if he supports the increased access to Narcan. “It instantly reverses everything that’s associated with an opioid overdose. They’ll instantly start breathing again, and then feel some of the opposite effects of opioids.”
He called the advisory recommendation “lifesaving,” especially so amidst the worsening opioid epidemic nationwide and the increasing detection of fentanyl.
“We have clients who are using cannabis only, let’s say not from a dispensary, or methamphetamine, (which is) also super common. Unbeknownst to them, when we run biologic drug tests, we find, ‘do you know there’s fentanyl in all the things that you’re using?’” Dr. Kamyar said.
According to CDC data, national opioid overdose deaths increased by over 17% at the peak of the pandemic, from around 69,000 in 2020 to 81,020 in 2021.
The increased accessibility is what the doctor believes will narrow future overdose death tolls significantly, and said in an “ideal” world, possessing a 4-milligram dose of Narcan will become the norm.
As to concerns a child or someone not experiencing an opioid overdose is exposed to the nasal spray, he added “nothing happens” and does not present any adverse effects.
“I don’t have any way of controlling the opioid supply, the fentanyl issue that we got going on. So, I have on the other side, the treatment side, the saving lives side,” Dr. Kamyar said.
Until that happens, Del Santo hopes others working through their addiction like her will get to experience the joys of life, like parenthood.
“We’re not saying ‘hey, it’s okay to go out and use.’ However, if you’re doing this risky behavior, here’s something that’s going to save your life. Please carry it,” Del Santo said. “If it’s more accessible, there’ll be more people out there willing to save lives.”
According to CBS News, the FDA discussed the design of Narcan instructions so that it is “clear enough that people of all ages could use the drug effectively without the help of an EMT or other health care provider.”
The ultimate decision to approve the recommendation is in the hands of the FDA commissioner. Currently, it is unclear if and when it will be approved and how much a standard nasal spray would cost.