WHO Wants Expanded Access to Naloxone to Fight Overdoses

By Paul Gaita 11/25/14

With worldwide overdoses on the rise, the World Health Organization laid out guidelines for countries to expand access to the lifesaving antidote.

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In an effort to stem the tide of deaths each year from opioid overdose, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines to increase access to naloxone, the opioid antagonist that has become a life-saving tool in preventing overdose deaths from heroin and prescription drugs across the globe.

According to the WHO, greater access to the generic drug can potentially save more than 20,000 lives per year in the United States alone; naloxone has been credited with saving more than 10,000 lives from overdose between 2006 and 2010.

Currently, many state and local police agencies, as well as hospital, first response and emergency care workers have access to the drug, but the WHO guidelines recommend that countries give individuals more access to naloxone, especially family members and friends of opioid users. “If opioids are easily available in people’s bathroom cabinets, it might make sense for naloxone to be equally available,” said WHO expert Nicolas Clark.

Access to the drug varies among countries: Scotland was the first country to introduce a national program to provide the drug, and saw a significant reduction in opioid deaths among recently released prisoners between 2006 and 2013. In the United States, access to naloxone for peer groups has gained support, but remains in restricted access in many states due to laws that do not protect medical providers from liability.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.