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Donating 50,000 Pumps of Overdose Drug Won’t Only Save “Addicts”

July 21, 2016Posted by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

There has been some debate in recent years about whether the life-saving, overdose-combating drug Narcan has the potential to “enable addicts.”

Wherever you stand on the issue, there’s no denying the fact that drug overdoses currently outnumber motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with an estimated 2.1 million Americans addicted to prescription pain pills, and another 467,000 to heroin.

What you may not know is that many of those opioid related deaths are unrelated to any sort of addiction.

That’s why earlier this year, Adapt Pharma, manufacturers of Narcan, and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative partnered to offer a free carton of NARCAN to any high school in the United States that requested one.

“Overdose can happen to anyone, it’s not just chronic drug users,” said Rain Henderson, chief executive officer of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. “Until recently, there hasn’t been enough opioid suppressants available to those who may need them.”

Now, Adapt Pharma is partnering with two additional nonprofits, HARM Reduction Coalition and the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I), who will donate 50,000 kits to people who need it, free of charge.  

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The drug itself, known as naloxone, has been on the market since 1971 in injection form, but, as the opioid and heroin addiction rate has increased, there was the need for a “consumer, layperson-friendly” kind of naloxone that could be administered by someone without medical training.

There are three simple steps to using the nasal spray: peeling open the package, placing the nozzle in the person’s nose and pressing the plunger to release the dose.

Since being fast-tracked and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2015 to combat the growing number of opioid deaths, police officers, first responders and friends and family members have used naloxone in nasal spray form to intervene when a person overdoses on prescription pills or heroin.

“If people know someone at risk, having naloxone is like wearing a seatbelt or having a fire extinguisher—it’s there just in case,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bratberg, a clinical professor at the University of Rhode Island who studies opioid prevention and treatment.

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Photo courtesy of the kirbster, CC

With this life-saving drug now available in nasal spray form that anyone can use on an overdose patient, public health organizations are turning their focus to getting naloxone in the hands of anyone who can benefit from it.  

“These organizations were selected because they had a rolodex of folks who could benefit from NARCAN nasal spray—we went to the core organizations who knew where there was a need,” said Matt Ruth, chief commercial officer for the U.S. for Adapt Pharma.

Ruth said the company is giving away the doses—which would have cost the organizations $37.50 a dose—to address the issues of affordability and accessibility.

“For first responders not medically trained to use needles, for caregivers and friends, this product is very simple to use,” Ruth said. “Our goals and objectives are to provide broad access, because this product does no good if it’s not at the scene of an overdose.”

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Photo courtesy of the Clinton Foundation

Since the nasal spray product became available, law enforcement officers and other first responders received the training and started carrying the sprays. Last week, a capitol police officer in Rhode Island used naloxone to successfully revive a 30-year-old man who was found unresponsive in a courthouse.

“When we have someone on the front line saying ‘I saved a life,’ that changes perspective,” said Bratberg, who added he believes the drug is contributing to a “culture change” in police department, as officers move away from a “fighting a war on drugs” mentality.

Naloxone has also helped change emergency department’s standards of care because practitioners are now witnessing patients recover from an overdoses instead of dying from one.

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Existing research shows a direct connection between access to naloxone and a decrease in overdose deaths; the next steps, however, are to address the stigma and lack of access to treatment resources in rural areas throughout the U.S.

Bratberg advises that anyone who knows someone with an opioid addiction to call their local pharmacy to see if the drug is in stock. Many states do not require a prescription to purchase naloxone.

“First you get naloxone,” Bratberg said. “Then, you figure out how to get a person into treatment.”

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