Arkansans affected by the opioid epidemic can now receive life-saving treatment over-the-counter at pharmacies. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of the state’s Naloxone Standing Protocol alongside state healthcare officials at a press conference Wednesday.
“The pharmacist, then, based on the standing protocol, and authorization by Dr. Nate Smith as the prescriber of record, allows any pharmacist in Arkansas to dispense Naloxone in order to save lives and to protect lives and assure that we’re not going to lose those lives that are so precious to us in this state,” Hutchinson said.
The protocol expands on legislation from 2015 allowing first responders to use Naloxone to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. It was developed following a law sponsored by Sens. Cecile Bledsoe and Lance Eads and Rep. Justin Boyd passed in the 2017 legislative session.
“We teach members of the public how to perform CPR so that resuscitation efforts don’t have to wait until an ambulance arrives or until a patient arrives at a hospital,” said Nate Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health. “In the same way, we want to make sure that the Naloxone is available and administered as soon as possible so that those precious minutes are saved and those lives are saved as well.”
The protocol functions similar to those governing immunizations, with Smith being the prescribing doctor for every over-the-counter use of the drug. Hutchinson says the protocol is consistent with recommendations made by the National Opioid Task Force to President Donald Trump to help curb the opioid epidemic.
“With the potential for abuse, and the education efforts that we’re trying to put forward to reduce that abuse, this is another angle to tackle the same thing, which is saving lives of those that might suffer from drug overdose,” Hutchinson said.
Naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) is administered via injection or nasal spray, and reverses the respiratory-suppressive effects of opioid overdose. The drug is effective in treating overdoses from both heroin and prescription pain medications.
“There’s large amounts of opioids that are being sold in this state. In 2016 there were enough pills that were dispensed for every man, woman, and child to take 80 pills each during the year,” Hutchinson said.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999. Approximately one half of all opioid overdose deaths can be attributed to prescription medication.