Surgeon General Urges Americans To Carry Naloxone

By Keri Blakinger 04/09/18

“We should think of naloxone like an EpiPen or CPR,” says Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams
Surgeon General Jerome Adams Photo via YouTube

The U.S. Surgeon General last week issued a rare national advisory urging Americans to carry the anti-overdose drug naloxone.

“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose—that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday in a statement. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this life-saving medication, because 77% of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”

It was the first national public health advisory issued since 2005, when the then-surgeon general warned of the hazards of drinking while pregnant.

"Surgeon general advisories are issued when there is a major health problem and a need for a call to action," Adams told USA Today in an interview last week at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. "One of the things we're trying to do is help the public understand that we're losing a person every 12.5 minutes from an opioid overdose.”

Since 2010, the number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled, according to federal figures. Currently, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are battling an opioid use disorder, the surgeon general’s statement said. 

“We should think of naloxone like an EpiPen or CPR,” Adams told NPR.

“We're working with pharmacies, providers and medical associations to increase training on how to administer naloxone in homes. But overall—and I'm an anesthesiologist who's administered naloxone many times myself—it's very safe, easy to use, and 49 of 50 states have standing orders for people to be able to access and to use [naloxone] in the home setting.”

Naloxone is a drug available as a nasal spray or injection to temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose. Every state in the nation has passed laws to boost naloxone access, and many now dole it out in pharmacies without a prescription. Although the drug can sometimes cost upward of $100, it’s often covered by insurance, USA Today reported.

“To manage opioid addiction and prevent future overdoses, increased naloxone availability must occur in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder,” Adams said.

Specifically, the surgeon general recommended that friends, family and anyone at risk of an overdose consider carrying the life-saving drug.

The move represents a fresh embrace of harm reduction principles, at a time when others in the federal government have trumpeted War on Drugs values.

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a controversial memo urging federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for drug dealers.

The push came just after President Trump touted the idea at an event in New Hampshire. 

"We have to be tough, we have to be smart, we have to change the laws," the president said. "The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty. Now maybe our country's not ready for that—it's possible."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.