A drug that can counteract the effects of an opiate overdose can now be sold by any Vermont pharmacy without a prescription, state health officials announced Thursday.
Naloxone, often sold under the brand name Narcan, is already saving lives in Vermont.
Health Commissioner Harry Chen said Thursday that his department is distributing more and more naloxone all the time.
“The health department now gives out about 700 doses per month through our 12 distribution sites,” Chen said.
The new policy allowing over-the-counter sales without a prescription is an effort to get the drug to even more Vermonters. Pharmacies are going to have to sell naloxone – they won't be giving it away – and that means people addicted to opiates will have to spend around $75 on a two-dose pack.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said he recognizes that the people suffering from addiction may spend their money on opiates instead, so he’s calling on friends and family to purchase naloxone.
“Because you can't expect the addicts – we hope they will – but you can't expect addicts to be fiscally responsible when they're addicted to opiates,” he said. “They will do anything to buy more opiates.”
Still, Shumlin and Chen both spoke in strong support of the state's programs to distribute naloxone.
Chen dismissed the idea that the drug is counterproductive because it makes drug users less cautious about drug use.
“Naloxone does not encourage use,” he said. “It simply saves lives.”
Chen also offered advice to drug users with the hopes of reducing the need for naloxone by preventing overdoses.
“I know this may sound strange to some,” he said, “but my message really to street drug users is really: Don't use alone. Have someone with you who can give naloxone or call 911. Use only one drug at a time, don't mix them with heroin or benzos. Test the strength of the drug before using the whole amount. Cut the amount you use at one time, and inject less if it feels too strong.”
Gov. Shumlin also said he supports the City of Seattle's experiment with safe-injection zones where drug users can inject themselves with clean needles and have medical help nearby in case of an overdose.
Shumlin isn’t planning a similar program in Vermont, he said, “but I think that we're doing this so wrong in America that any innovation should be given a chance to see how it goes.”
For now, officials in Vermont hope that wherever drug users are, there's some naloxone nearby.