Going to ‘save lives:’ FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan

  • Narcan nasal spray quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose
  • The drug could be widely available as early as late summer
  • More than 100,000 fatal overdoses were reported in 2022

(NewsNation) — The Food and Drug Administration has approved Narcan for sale over the counter.

Narcan is a brand of naloxone, a drug that can be used to reverse opioid overdoses. The nasal spray is simple to use and can reverse the effects of dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl. While the drug has previously required a prescription, public health officials and activist groups have offered trainings on it and distributed the medication to the general public.

“Naloxone is a critical tool in addressing opioid overdoses, and today’s approval underscores the extensive efforts the agency has undertaken to combat the overdose crisis,” said Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

Administering Narcan is easy, doctors say.

“It’s a nasal applicator and a push pump that any person can use if you’ve ever used the nasal spray for allergies,” Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, explained.

Overdose deaths, driven primarily by synthetic opioids like fentanyl, have impacted communities around the country. In the fiscal year ending in October 2022, there were 101,750 reported fatal overdoses.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said the decision to make Narcan over the counter is a response to this public health emergency.

“Today’s approval of OTC naloxone nasal spray will help improve access to naloxone, increase the number of locations where it’s available and help reduce opioid overdose deaths throughout the country,” Califf said. “We encourage the manufacturer to make accessibility to the product a priority by making it available as soon as possible and at an affordable price.”

Manufacturers will be able to set their own prices for Narcan and will control the timeline of when it will be widely available. However, by late summer, it is expected to be at retail pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, vending machines and other retailers.

While Narcan nasal spray has been approved for general sale, other naloxone products will remain prescription only.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon said on “Morning in America,” there’s no difference between over the counter and prescription Narcan — except that the former is more accessible. 

With addiction still being stigmatized, people might be embarrassed to get Narcan through a pharmacist, Grinspoon pointed out. Having it available over the counter solves this problem, so people can feel less nervous about buying Narcan, not just for themselves — but also, for others. 

Grinspoon, who has been in recovery from opiates for 15 years, says it can be hard to tell if someone’s loved one is struggling. 

“Nobody had any idea” he had a problem, Grinspoon told NewsNation.

That’s why, he says, making Narcan an over-the-counter medication is long overdue. 

“The more people have access to Narcan, the more we’re going to be able to save lives,” he said.

Drug rehab counselor Jeremy Ware agrees.

“Any treatment center that is that that works with people who struggle with addiction should have this and most of them do,” Ware said. “But the idea that it can be everywhere is going to be incredible.”


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