SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 8, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — It is now legal for Utah pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription to anyone at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose, the Utah Department of Health announced today.
Naloxone is a safe, legal drug that blocks the effects of opiates on the brain and can reverse an overdose of heroin or a prescription opioid, according to the UDOH news release. There is no potential for abuse and side effects are rare.
Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the UDOH, stated in the release that, “Opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented by timely administration of naloxone. As authorized by state law, this standing order is intended to increase access to naloxone for those who might be at risk of an overdose or who might be in a position to assist somebody at risk of an overdose.”
Naloxone can be administered as a nasal spray (commonly known as Narcan®) or intramuscular injection.
According to UDOH, six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses. In 2015, 268 Utahns died from a prescription opioid overdose, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl; 127 died from illicit opioids such as heroin; and 10 deaths involved both prescription and illicit opioids. That’s an average of 33 each month (13.5 per 100,000 population).
An estimated 80 percent of heroin users start with prescription drugs and Utah ranks fourth highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths, the release states.
Those at highest risk of an opioid overdose include people who:
- Are taking high doses of opioids for long-term management of chronic pain
- Have a history of substance abuse or a previous non-fatal overdose
- Have lowered opioid tolerance as a result of completing a detoxification program or recently being released from incarceration
- Are using a combination of opioids and other drugs, such as benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Valium, Xanax) or alcohol
- Are unfamiliar with the strength and dosage of prescription opioids and the purity of street drugs like heroin
- Are alone when using drugs
- Smoke cigarettes or have a respiratory illness, kidney or liver disease, cardiac illness, or HIV/AIDS
Rep. Steve Eliason sponsored House Bill 240, Opiate Overdose Response Act, in the 2016 General Legislative Session. The bill’s passage allowed the Utah Department of Commerce and UDOH to put into effect a standing order to dispense naloxone. Other laws passed in recent years expanded access to naloxone and provide protections for bystanders to report an overdose without fear of criminal prosecution for illegal possession of a controlled substance or illegal drug.
It isn’t mandatory for pharmacies to participate in the standing order, but those that do are encouraged to register with UDOH. Also, pharmacists dispensing naloxone under the standing order are required to report annually to UDOH the total number of single doses of naloxone dispensed and the name of each naloxone product dispensed, along with the total number of single doses of that particular product.
“Providing naloxone more quickly to the Utah public may be the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid use disorders,” said Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. “The Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing appreciates the strong support of Governor Gary Herbert, the Utah Legislature, the Department of Health, and others in making naloxone available to protect our citizens.”