CVS Pharmacy announced that it would offer the opiate antidote Narcan without a prescription at all of its 60 pharmacies in Rhode Island by the end of month.
Narcan, also known as naloxone, offers immediate help for anyone overdosing from an opiate such as heroin or a prescription painkiller such as OxyContin. If given in time, Narcan can reverse an overdose by restoring breathing.
“Over half of our pharmacies are now under a collaborative agreement that allows them to dispense Narcan without a prescription,” CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said Friday. “It’s part of our commitment to combat prescription drug abuse. We think it’s a great public service.”
The Walgreens pharmacy chain began a similar program more than a year ago, thanks to an agreement among the Board of Pharmacy, a Miriam Hospital doctor and the drugstore.
The two drug giants are responding to a surge in recent deaths in Rhode Island due to opiate drug overdoses. According to a Butler Hospital website, Rhode Island ranks among the highest in the country in illicit drug use, including the non-medical use of prescription pain relievers and per capita overdose deaths.
In the first four months of 2014, 90 Rhode Islanders died from accidental drug overdoses, a 23-percent increase from the 73 drug overdoses reported during the same period last year.
In August, Butler and Kent hospitals began distributing Narcan to patients at risk of an opiate drug overdose. The Rhode Island State Police added Narcan to their toolbox in early May.
The collaborative agreement is with Dr. Josiah Rich, an infectious disease specialist at the Miriam Hospital. Once a pharmacist completes the training program, he or she signs the agreement with Rich.
DeAngelis referred to this process as a blanket prescription.
“It’s pretty straight forward,” Rich said. “We teach people how to recognize a drug overdose, to call 911 and how to administer Narcan.”
Narcan can be administered as a nasal spray or an injection. CVS will offer both, but the nasal spray is expected to be much more widely used. CVS pharmacists are currently undergoing training on how to help customers properly administer the drug, DeAngelis said.
“It will be like getting a flu shot,” he said. “You will be able to walk in and not need a prescription.”
Rich said, however, that a single dose of Narcan may not be enough. He also said that as Narcan wears off, the individual may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
“We strongly encourage people to seek medical care,” he said.
Rich applauded CVS for making a commitment to deal with a serious medical crisis in Rhode Island.
“Here in their home state, with one of the most devastating public epidemics to hit, they are stepping up to the plate and rolling this out,” he said. “This is a critically important tool to prevent overdose deaths.”
Rich said he hopes that if the effort is successful here, CVS will consider expanding it to other states.