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The opioid-antidote drug Narcan will be sold over-the-counter at major U.S. drug stores starting in September. Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Naloxone, more commonly known by its brand name Narcan, is a drug used to reverse some of the effects of opioid overdose.
  • The Food and Drug Administration says the drug can now be sold over-the-counter.
  • It is expected to be widely available starting in September and will cost around $45 at major drug store chains in the U.S.
  • The American Medical Association and the American Pharmacists Association support making naloxone more widely available to help save lives.

The opioid-antidote drug naxolone will be sold over-the-counter (OTC) in the United States starting in September. Known by its brand name, Narcan, naloxone is a drug used to reverse some of the effects of opioid overdose.

On August 30, pharmacy giant Walgreens announced that they will start selling Narcan starting September 5. According to Bloomberg, Walgreens and other major drug store chains like Rite Aid, CVS, and Walmart plan to stock Narcan, which will retail for about $45.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved naloxone to be sold over-the-counter. The FDA approval followed a late 2022 CDC report showing that drug overdose deaths hit record highs in the U.S.

“[The] approval of OTC naloxone nasal spray will help improve access to naloxone, increase the number of locations where it’s available and help reduce opioid overdose deaths throughout the country,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said in a statement in March.

Narcan can be given through a nasal spray or through injection into muscle, under the skin, or directly into a vein.

Narcan then binds with the opioid receptors which then blocks the ability of fentanyl and other opioids to bind with these receptors. As a result, if a person’s breathing is slowing or has stopped due to an opioid overdose, Narcan can help reverse that dangerous symptom.

Since naloxone only works for a short period of time, anyone who has overdosed needs medical attention even after the administration of naloxone. It has no effects on those who have not taken an opioid.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Pharmacists Association support making naloxone more widely available in order to save lives.

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, chair of the AMA Substance Use and Pain Care Task Force, said the AMA supported the FDA in approving Narcan.

“While government decisions are often incremental, FDA’s decision will transform how we compassionately and logically respond to the overdose epidemic,” Mukkamala said in a statement in March.

“More lives will be saved when naloxone is easily available at grocery stores and pharmacies. If it weren’t for naloxone, there would be tens of thousands more Americans dying from opioid overdose, including those related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl.”

By making naloxone available for over-the-counter use, it can be purchased without needing a pharmacist or medical professional to dispense it.

Dr. Tucker Woods, the chair of the emergency department and associate medical director of Lenox Health Greenwich Village, board certified in addiction medicine, said in a previous interview that making naloxone available OTC could be a huge help in fighting the rise of deadly overdoses.

“We are currently experiencing the highest number of opioid overdose deaths that the country has ever seen,” Woods said.

“Naloxone is an extremely effective medication that reverses an opioid overdose; in other words, naloxone is an antidote to opioid overdose. Previously naloxone was only available with a prescription. By making it available as an over-the-counter medication, we will be able to expand access and get naloxone into more hands. This is an effective public health approach that will ultimately save more lives given the scope of the opioid epidemic.”

Experts say that having easily available naloxone could mean anyone can take steps to save the life of a person experiencing a potentially deadly overdose.

A 2020 study took 710 adults and adolescents and trained them to recognize the signs of opioid overdose as well as when and how to administer naloxone (through nasal spray or injection). The researchers found that more than 80% were able to understand and implement the training when needed.

Fatalities related to opioids have reached record highs in recent years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 107,000 people are believed to have died due to overdose in the U.S. in 2022.

To combat these rising rates the FDA has taken steps to help improve access to life-saving medication like naloxone.

These include increasing the shelf life of naloxone from 24 months to 36 months and requiring manufacturers of any medication containing opioids to include information about naloxone in medication prescription information.

The FDA also recommended that anyone currently taking an opioid pain reliever have a prescription for naloxone as well.

A few things need to be done to prepare naloxone for OTC use, such as:

  • A drug facts label that explains the dose per nasal spray or autoinjector and the active ingredient must be prepared.
  • Pictograms describing how to use naloxone and when should also be added.

The FDA approved the opioid-antidote drug Narcan to be sold over the counter. The news comes after reports that opioid-related deaths reached all-time highs. Major U.S. pharmacies like Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS will sell the drug for around $45. Over-the-counter access to Narcan could be lifesaving.