Does Naloxone Reduce Overdose Rates?

By Kelly Burch 03/02/17

A new study examined whether or not naloxone access laws and Good Samaritan laws could reduce overdose deaths. 

Woman holding naloxone injector.
Photo via YouTube

A recent study confirmed that access to the opioid-overdose drug naloxone is linked with a 9-11% reduction in opioid-related deaths—which means about 3,500 lives saved across the nation each year. 

The study, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at the way naloxone access laws and Good Samaritan laws may reduce overdose deaths. The study found that encouraging more people to carry naloxone was associated with reduced death rates. However, it found that Good Samaritan laws did not have a statistically significant impact on death rates. The study looked at the period between 1999 and 2014. 

The study found a correlation, but could not say whether the naloxone access laws caused the decrease in death rates. It could be that states that pass the laws have greater awareness of the opioid epidemic, according to Vox

“Naloxone is a lifesaving antidote that, if administered in a timely manner, can effectively reverse respiratory depression caused by opioid and opiate overdose and revive victims,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of West Virginia's Bureau for Public Health, told CBS News in February. 

Forty-five states and Washington, D.C. have eased access to naloxone since 2001. The laws around the drug vary from state to state, however. In many states, the drug is available over the counter. 

Unsurprisingly, the demand for naloxone has increased rapidly as the opioid epidemic continues. 

One maker of the drug, Evzio, raised the price of its product from $690 to $4,500 per unit. The naloxone auto-injector guides a person through administering a dose, and makes up about 20% of naloxone administered between 2015 and 2016. 

West Virginia, the state with the highest overdose rates in the nation, recently announced that it will use federal grant money to distribute 8,000 naloxone kits. “This collaboration represents an essential step toward turning around West Virginia’s staggering overdose statistics,” said Dr. Gupta. 

West Virginia officials administered 4,186 doses of naloxone in all of 2016, so the 8,000 kits will represent a huge increase in access to the life-saving drug. 

“The problem remains huge in West Virginia, which likely continues to have the highest rate of overdose deaths. The naloxone distribution can only help to turn that epidemic around,” said Herb Linn, deputy director of West Virginia University’s Injury Control Research Center, which will implement the project across the state. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.