The country’s chief doctor is urging more Americans to start carrying a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams is calling on more Americans to carry naloxone, the drug that can restore normal breathing when injected or sprayed in the nostrils.
He made the announcement Thursday morning while speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
Naloxone is available over the counter in most states, including Colorado. Adams says 95 percent of all insured Americans are covered to purchase naloxone, which can cost around $80 for one dose. For those who are uninsured, he says the antidote is available at little or no cost through local public health programs.
Robert Valuck, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skagg’s School of Pharmacy, says it’s a start when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic.
“It’s the immediate stopgap because we have to plug this drain because we have too many people circling this drain and being lost in this country,” says Valuck. “When we have a perfect anecdote that works, it’s really terrible. It’s like saying we’re not going to use CPR on people that pass out, or we’re not going to give them an Epipen if they have a bee sting, and we have a perfectly good drug that works, but we’re not going to push that out and make people aware of it. We have to make people aware of this.”
Valuck says the surgeon general issued the public health warning because the opioid crisis is such a huge problem.
“We need to do something and respond quickly and more forcefully than we are,” he says. “People are overdosing and dying in libraries, in alleys behind businesses … it’s not at all unreasonable that you may find someone on the ground or outside a business, if you gave them the drug, you could save their life.”
Valuck says if you suspect someone has passed out due to an overdose you should use the drug. He describes Naloxone as a ‘near perfect drug’ because even if the person isn’t suffering from a drug overdose, it won’t harm them. It will save the life of someone who is dying from an opioid overdose, but it won’t affect someone if they are suffering from a different type of medical emergency.
He says it’s important to call 911 right after giving the life-saving dose because the person may need more medical treatment.
Valuck agrees with the surgeon general – saying he hopes those who are at risk, as well as their family and friends, will keep the antidote on hand. The surgeon general says 77 percent of opioid overdoses occur outside of a medical setting.
More than 42,000 Americans suffered fatal opioid overdoses in 2016.
More information can be found here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.