Opioid Overdoses Are Rising: Is Your Pharmacy Equipped?


The pandemic is exacerbating many of the conditions that contribute to relapse or people using substances just to cope, including unemployment, stress, fear, anxiety, and isolation.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across the nation, we are also seeing spikes in opioid overdoses. The pandemic is exacerbating many of the conditions that contribute to relapse or people using substances just to cope, including unemployment, stress, fear, anxiety, and isolation.

Although public health officials know that social distancing slows the spread of COVID-19, it can also have an adverse effect on those who struggle with substance use. With the rising number of fatalities, it is imperative that all pharmacists demand that their pharmacies are stocked with naloxone (ie Narcan or Evzio), a medication that is easy to administer and is designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses, overall helping to save lives. By stocking naloxone in all pharmacies, it is easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed.

Approximately 25 to 30 years ago, as heart disease became a major public health concern, millions of Americans were voluntarily trained to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). To this day, the American Heart Association still trains more than 12 million people each year in this life-saving procedure. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, urges Americans to “think of naloxone like an EpiPen or CPR.” Now more than ever, it is critical that Americans are trained on what they can do to reverse an overdose fatality—and knowing where they can access naloxone is the first step.

Pharmacists and other health care providers play a critical role in providing access to naloxone. In the last year, many states announced partnerships with pharmacies to offer free Narcan nasal spray kits and programs to aid in Narcan training, helping to reduce financial barriers.

Many states have laws that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription, and all major drug store chains—including Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS—carry naloxone. Dispensing has increased in recent years, but more work needs to be done, particularly in rural counties.

The annual International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 is a reminder that now is the time to establish a new public health priority. Pharmacists should advocate to ensure their pharmacies are equipped to handle the influx of naloxone requests that may be heading their way.

It is more likely for a bystander to be called upon to administer naloxone than CPR.1 Administering naloxone is relatively easy for non-medical personnel, and providing it quickly after an opioid overdose rapidly reverses respiratory depression, which is the primary cause of death. It is extremely safe, effective, and works in seconds. There are 2 simple delivery mechanisms currently available in the United States—an intramuscular auto-injector similar to the EpiPen (Evzio), and a nasal spray (Narcan).

Compared with last year, the drug overdose death toll has increased by 13%, and according to preliminary data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 72,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses. As the number of opioid deaths continues to rise, it is important for pharmacists to consider ways to help with reducing the overdose risk by maintaining supplies of naloxone.


Surgeon General: You’re More Likely to Have to Administer Naloxone Than CPR. Indiana Public Media. https://indianapublicmedia.org/news/surgeon-general-youre-more-likely-to-have-to-administer-naloxone-than-cpr.php?fbclid=IwAR0nt8mh5-UNEvYCIyuba1Rvxo1s_7_HPcNml74tsjmuPq15tgAaYrXCfrI. Published November 18, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2020.

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