Getting Answers: FDA considering making Narcan available on store shelves

Getting Answers: FDA considering making Narcan available on store shelves
Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 5:55 PM EST
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GREENFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The FDA has voted unanimously in favor of making the overdose antidote Narcan available without a prescription, but due to a statewide standing order, it’s already available without a prescription in Massachusetts.

“It saved me three times and I’m glad they have that because if they didn’t, God knows what could’ve happened,” said Juan Torres, a Recover Project volunteer.

Torres started using drugs when he was just 17-years-old.

“It escalated as the years went by. I was addicted to heroin, crack, cocaine, and pills,” Torres added.

Torres overdosed three times before getting clean and he told Western Mass News he wouldn’t be here, helping others struggling with addiction at Recover Project in Greenfield if it weren’t for Narcan.

“Sitting in the stretcher, in the bed, and everything, something told me it’s not your time and woke me up,” Torres explained.

The opioid overdose treatment, known by the generic name naloxone, could soon be on the shelves of your neighborhood drug store next to the Tylenol and Band-Aids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide by the end of March whether Narcan can be sold over the counter.

“I think that if it was available on store shelves, instead of behind the counter, people wouldn’t feel awkward going up and asking for it. They could just go get it off the shelf,” said Recover Project volunteer Jonathan Coe.

Narcan is a prescription drug, but a standing order from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health allows anyone to access it by requesting a kit from a pharmacist or by picking it up from a harm reduction site like Tapestry, but advocates, like Coe, said both of those options can carry a stigma.

“It deters people from going in, trying to get it because they don’t want to have the stigma of addiction attached to them or they don’t feel comfortable going in and asking for it because they’ll be looked at, like they have some sort of connection to someone who’s using drugs,” Coe noted.

With the drug on store shelves, people could get access to the drug with more anonymity, but there’s another barrier: cost.

“That’s my biggest fear is that right now with Narcan, what’s the price? How much is it gonna cost?” Torres asked

The drugmaker said it’s too early in the approval process to comment on pricing, but government officials said they hope the move could drive down prices. A two-pack of Narcan can cost around $50 if not covered by insurance.

“It’s crazy to see someone basically dead and come back to life due to this drug,” Coe added.

The nasal spray blocks the effects of opioids and can restore breathing within two to three minutes in a person who’s overdosing. Coe has administered it multiple times.

“It’s really a traumatic thing, trying to bring someone back to life. I’ve seen people, blue and gray, literally not breathing with no pulse and through rescue breathing, CPR, and using Narcan, they’ve come back to life,” Coe said.

While Torres and Coe have questions on pricing, they agreed that any increase in access to the drug could save lives and destigmatize the treatment that they believe should be in everyone’s first aid kit.

The FDA is expected to make a decision by the end of March and, if approved, Narcan would be available over the counter by late summer.