Could Doctors Co-Prescribing Naloxone Decrease Overdose Deaths?

By May Wilkerson 06/29/16

A new study examined whether giving pain patients who use opioid medication a naloxone prescription would decrease opioid overdose deaths. 

Could Doctors Co-Prescribing Naloxone Decrease Overdose Deaths?

Again and again, research has shown that the overdose antidote, naloxone, saves lives. The nasal spray version of the lifesaving drug, known as Narcan, was recently distributed to high schools across the United States for free. But not all states welcomed the initiative. Some officials argued that it would enable heroin users, even though naloxone has been used to treat opioid overdose for nearly half a century, according to Medical Daily.

But should doctors also prescribe naloxone? According to a new study led by Dr. Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research at the Center for Public Health Research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, prescribing naloxone to patients receiving opioid medication for chronic pain could significantly decrease fatalities from accidental overdoses.

Coffin and his colleagues examined data collected from the Naloxone for Opioid Safety Evaluation, a naloxone co-prescribing program that was implemented at various medical centers in San Francisco. Among participating patients, the majority had previously visited an emergency room for an opioid-related medical issue, or were prescribed a relatively high dose of opioid medication. More than a third were given a prescription for naloxone, and the researchers found that these patients experienced fewer opioid-related ER visits than participants who were not prescribed naloxone. 

Also, researchers from a separate program in San Francisco found a decline in heroin-related deaths when naloxone prescriptions were given to active heroin users. Naloxone, which also comes in a less user-friendly injectable form, works by reversing the effects of opioids found in the system of someone who has overdosed on heroin or prescription drugs like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone. If administered in time, it can prevent an overdose from becoming fatal. The drug has no mind-altering effects when used on its own.

Narcan has only been approved by the FDA since November 2015, but officials have been pushing to increase access to naloxone for much longer, according to Medical Daily. In 2014, the Obama administration urged police agencies across the U.S. to carry naloxone in case an officer encounters someone who has overdosed. Unintentional opioid overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to CNN, with fatality rates rising quickly over the last decade.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.