CVS Health announced Wednesday that the opiate overdose reversal medication naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is now available in the company's stores in Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. No prescription is needed to purchase the medication.
The nasal mist can revive someone suffering a heroin or prescription pill OD. CVS has already been offering naloxone without a doctor’s prescription in stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and said that by the end of March, it will operate the naloxone program in 23 states total.
"It's a challenge across America," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, describing the alarming number of deadly opiate overdoses nationwide, which the Centers for Disease Control puts at 78 a day.
In November 2015, Fitchburg, Massachusetts library worker Alfred Rivera described for necn how he helped save a stranger with Narcan in a McDonald's bathroom.
"Checked her pulse; no pulse--she was purple," Rivera recounted last fall. "I thought she was dead, so I said, 'I'm going to give it a try and I hope to God it works.' Within a minute, she started gasping for air. You could hear that gargling noise, so that's when I knew it was getting better."
Through community non-profits, the Vermont Department of Health has been providing free rescue kits to loved ones of people at risk for ODs, calling them a lifeline that could give patients a second chance to work toward recovery from addiction.
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"You can save a neighbor or family member's life," Shumlin said of naloxone. "For years, we literally let folks who were suffering from opiate addiction die before our eyes when we could have saved them."
At CVS, the medication will be available for $60-90 dollars for two doses, said Tom Davis, the vice president of pharmacy professional practices for CVS.
"There is a patient counseling component that includes holistic information around what to do in the event of an opioid overdose, how to administer the medication, and there's information around other resources available to help the patient," Davis explained, noting CVS pharmacists will be able to demonstrate for customers how to assemble and administer the medication.
While exact numbers are hard to pin down, Gov. Shumlin said he believes naloxone has been used successfully in the state a few hundred times. Shumlin said he hopes more pharmacy chains follow CVS's lead and offer the medication without prescriptions.
"This will be another tool in our toolbox in a very important strategy to combat the opioid crisis," said Dr. Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
By the end of 2016, CVS plans to expand its naloxone program to 35 states total, according to a company spokesperson.