Nebraska pharmacists and addiction specialists question future availability of over-the-counter Narcan

Metro pharmacists are questioning the future of over-the-counter availability of Narcan.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:20 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska health experts and pharmacists are weighing in on the Federal Drug Administration’s approval of over-the-counter Narcan, the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.

The move is intended to make Narcan easily accessible for those who need it the most.

Many addiction psychiatrists and pharmacists applaud the FDA’s decision which makes Narcan the first opioid treatment drug to be sold without a prescription in the United States.

Doctor Alena Balasanova, an addiction psychiatrist with Nebraska Medicine said it’s a good first step. “This is a pivotal change,” she said. “I am so excited that naloxone has been approved.”

Even before the FDA’s move, certain pharmacies could distribute Narcan without a prescription for free through community programs. Approving Narcan for over-the-counter use clears the way for it to be sold in places without pharmacies, including convenience stores, supermarkets and online.

Balasanova says this will also help destigmatize substance use disorder, so people are more likely to get help if they need it. However, she says it remains to be seen how many places will actually carry the drug.

“I think some of that has to do with the pharmacies, and with their desire to stock it, and the marketing that they’re going to do about it, and how they’re going to price it,” Balasanova said.

The price of Narcan varies, but two doses often go for about $50. Whether insurance companies will cover any or all the cost is unclear.

“There’s a lot of ‘what if’s’ right now, and I think in order for this to be successful, this over-the-counter naloxone, it needs to be affordable, right?” Balasanova questions. “It needs to be affordable for middle to lower-income families.”

Kohll’s Rx has been distributing Narcan free for years and will continue to do so.

“We’ve recognized for years the importance of Narcan to reverse the effects of opioid overdose which is why we’ve made it easily accessible today and for years to the public,” says Pharmacist David Kohll.

Pharmacists at Kohll’s say the demand for Narcan has gone up from about twice a month, to twice a week.

“It could be for a variety of reasons. Mental health is a really big issue right now and I think it’s definitely contributed to the uptick that we saw,” Kokou Kanley says.

The Nebraska Pharmacists Association says making Narcan available over the counter is a step in the right direction and will allow them to get it to more people across the state.

Narcan is expected to be on the shelves of some U.S. Stores by late summer. It can still be found free of charge through several avenues in both Nebraska and Iowa.