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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Naloxone accessibility saves lives


DTH Photo Illustration. Narcan nasal spray, a form of Naloxone, is available at the UNC Campus Health pharmacy. The product is packaged with instructions and precautions.

Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, one of the most lifesaving drugs comes in the form of something as simple as a liquid nasal spray. 

Narcan, the liquid form of naloxone, quickly reverses the fatal effects of an overdose. Naloxone works by attaching to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioids in the brain. It’s everything you could hope for in a lifesaving drug – safe, effective and so easy to use that even a bystander with no medical training can administer it.

Although Narcan is readily available in many parts of the country, its previously prescription-only status created hurdles for individuals to obtain the lifesaving drug. But it just became a whole lot more accessible. 

On March 29, the Food and Drug Administration officially approved Narcan for over-the-counter use, meaning no prescription is required. This comes after a committee of advisors unanimously voted to consider the change in February. Although most states have already made it available in pharmacies without a prescription, Narcan’s new status as an over-the-counter drug means that it can now more easily be purchased in other venues, such as supermarkets or even vending machines.

This decision is a simple but necessary step in the right direction when it comes to fighting the severity of the opioid crisis. Not only will its no-prescription status allow it to become more accessible to anyone who needs it, but it will also work to destigmatize Narcan by making it more prevalent. By displaying narcotic overdose treatments in pharmacies across the country, placing it right between the Ibuprofen and Pepto Bismol, Narcan can weave its way into our communities as something typical.

One of the strongest forms of harm reduction is right at our fingertips. However, in order for a harm reduction tool like Narcan to be the most effective, Narcan must be both widespread and cheap. The FDA’s action to instate an over-the-counter status theoretically makes the push to put Narcan in the pockets of everyone — but without efforts to make the cost of Narcan low, the previous barrier to access will just be replaced with a financial barrier.

As it stands now, a box containing two 4mg Narcan nasal sprays costs between $30 and nearly $100, depending on the pharmacy, which is by no means an effective price point for those who may need it.

There are harm reduction groups across the country that do offer free Narcan to users. In Chapel Hill, the Orange County Detention Center now has vending machines that dispense Narcan kits for free. However, the distribution of free or low-cost Narcan must make its way beyond health centers and into venues we use on a daily basis.

An overdose can happen anywhere, and to anyone – even on a college campus. In March, a student at North Carolina State University died from an accidental fentanyl overdose. Opioids exist on college campuses, and it’s virtually impossible to fully prevent college students from coming in contact with opioids. Because of this, it’s vital for college students to be properly equipped with tools like Narcan that can help prevent fatal overdoses.

If you can afford it, go buy Narcan and carry it with you. The UNC Campus Health Pharmacy offers Naloxone kits to students free of charge, anonymously and without a prescription. 

You never know whose life you could save. 


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