Minnesota became one of 14 states last month that now sells an opioid overdose antidote over the counter — almost two years after the state Legislature passed a law allowing people to administer the medicine. Now, advocacy groups are working to get the word out.
Advocates and pharmacies, like CVS Pharmacy, hope access to Naloxone — the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses — helps decrease the number of deaths due to overdose. Drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Opioids include heroin, prescription pain relievers and morphine.
“Over 44,000 people die from accidental drug overdoses every year in the United States, and most of those deaths are from opioids,” Tom Davis, vice president of pharmacy professional services at CVS Pharmacy, said in a statement last month. “By providing access to this medication in our pharmacies without a prescription in more states, we can help save lives.”
In Minnesota, someone overdoses on an opioid as frequently as every four days, said Lexi Reed Holtum, vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. The foundation advocated for the 2013 passage of the legislation known as Steve’s Law.
Reed Holtum was engaged to Rummler — a former University of Minnesota student — when he died of a heroin overdose in 2011.
Steve’s Law grants immunity from criminal prosecution to a person who seeks medical assistance for, or administers an opiate antidote to, someone suffering from an overdose.
“[Naloxone] is really one powerful tool. It gives hope where it feels hopeless,” Reed Holtum said. “It gives an opportunity to intervene in a way that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
She said pharmacies that offer Naloxone over the counter eliminate the need to go to a doctor first, which could help avoid inaction due to the stigma associated with the disease of addiction.
“When a parent goes into their doctor to talk about their son being addicted to prescription pain pills, immediately there is a sense of, ‘Is that doctor judging me? Do they think it’s my fault?’” Reed Holtum said.
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the pharmacy has an agreement with a Naloxone prescriber in each of the 14 states so a prescription isn’t needed to purchase the antidote.
“We can order it upon request for availability by the next business day,” he said.
Naloxone is also available in Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin without a prescription.
Although Reed Holtum said access to Naloxone in some pharmacies is a positive step, concerns about accessibility and cost remain.
“The cost of purchasing Naloxone is still extremely high,” she said. “Our concern is that people are having a hard time being able to afford it.”
The cost of Naloxone has increased greatly in the past year by 50 percent or more.
For example, according to the Vermont Department of Health, 10 doses of naloxone in that state cost $113 in March before the price jumped to $183 in April.
To help increase the awareness of the drug, the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation launched a campaign Monday that included putting up 40 billboards across the state, Reed
She said the group hopes to raise $50,000 to distribute 2,000 Naloxone kits.