Narcan Could Soon Be Available Over the Counter

FDA panels support change making overdose-reversing drug much more widely available
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2023 4:10 AM CST
FDA Advisers Approve Over-the-Counter Sale of Narcan
Attendees practice administering Narcan during an overdose education and Narcan training class at the Onala Recovery Center on the South Shore of Pittsburgh on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.   (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, File)

Two panels of Food and Drug Administration advisers have unanimously recommended that Narcan be made available over the counter, a move that could help reduce deaths in the ongoing opioid epidemic. The overdose-reducing nasal spray, known generically as naloxone, is already widely used by first responders and outreach workers. But friends and relatives of drug users, as well as the users themselves, have found it difficult to obtain, the New York Times reports. The addiction experts advising the FDA said the spray was safe and effective even in infants and there was no potential for abuse.

If the FDA approves Narcan in its final decision on March 29, the product could be available at outlets including vending machines and convenience stores by this summer. "There is no reason to keep this as a prescription, let’s get it out there and save some lives," committee member Elizabeth Coykendall, a paramedic in Raleigh, North Carolina, tells CNBC. More than 500,000 people have died from opioid overdoses in the US since 1999, including a record 107,000 in 2021, and experts say the total would be hundreds of thousands of deaths higher without the use of naloxone.

The AP notes that leaders of all 50 states have made Narcan available in pharmacies without a prescription, but many pharmacies don't stock it and doctors hope making it more widely available will reduce the stigma around asking for it. One issue some panel members raised was instructions on the packaging that could potentially be unclear, especially to a person in the stressful situation of having to rapidly administer Narcan to an overdosing person, but they urged the FDA to approve the switch without waiting for maker Emergent Biosolutions to conduct a new study with a clearer label. Emergent promised it would follow the FDA's suggestion and move all the directions to a single panel, with pictograms. (More overdose stories.)

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