Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced independent pharmacies across the state will now be able to provide naloxone to their customers without a prescription. Naloxone – also known as Narcan® – is a medication that reverses opioid overdose. Improved accessibility to the medication is one of the priorities at the center of the Governor’s fight to end opioid abuse in New York State.
"Heroin addiction has taken the lives of far too many New Yorkers, but today we are taking an important step forward in battling this epidemic,” Governor Cuomo said. "By making this lifesaving medication available in drugstores without a prescription, we are continuing to prevent needless tragedies from occurring and ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to this critical medication."
The Department of Health provides funding to The Harm Reduction Coalition, the Department’s Center for Excellence in serving the needs of substance users. The Harm Reduction Coalition will issue standing medical orders to the more than 750 independent pharmacies outside the five boroughs of New York City, as well as chain pharmacies without a designated prescriber, allowing their pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. As a DOH-registered overdose prevention program, the HRC is able to issue these standing orders. Many smaller counties in the state have no chain pharmacies and rely exclusively on independent pharmacies.
This initiative builds on the Governor’s other opioid overdose prevention efforts. In January 2016, the Health Department approved more than 480 CVS pharmacies throughout the State as registered opioid overdose programs, enabling their pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Earlier this month, the Department took a similar action for Walgreens for more than 460 Walgreens and Duane Read pharmacies statewide.
"Making naloxone available in both chain and independent pharmacies ensures that this life-saving medication is widely accessible throughout New York’s communities,” said State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker. "Naloxone works by countering the opioid’s depressive effects on respiration, so an overdose victim can breathe normally.”
“I applaud this latest expansion of access to naloxone, and encourage all New Yorkers to take the opportunity to learn how to administer this life-saving medication,” said NYS OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez. “You never know when you may have the opportunity to save a life and give those suffering from addiction the opportunity to be connected to treatment so that they can begin a path towards recovery.”
Sharon Stancliff, MD, HRC’s Medical Director and the physician issuing the new standing orders said, “Pharmacists are very much aware of the need for naloxone in their communities and have shown enthusiasm about being involved. The role of pharmacies in promoting public health is vital. The HRC is enthusiastic about our role in facilitating their participation.”
When administered either through injection or by nasal spray, naloxone temporarily blocks the effects of opioids allowing a stricken individual to regain consciousness. The potentially life-threatening opioids include medicines prescribed to address pain as well as illicit drugs such as heroin.
Naloxone poses no danger to individuals who come into contact with it, and has no potential for being abused. It works only if a person has opioids in his or her system; the medication has no effect if opioids are absent.
Governor Cuomo signed legislation last year to combat opioid abuse. One element of that legislation was strengthening the State's opioid overdose initiative. Through that initiative, which started in 2006, more than 100,000 community members and public safety personnel have been trained to recognize opioid overdoses, and to respond by administering naloxone and calling 911. More than 55,000 of the responders were trained in the last twelve months. Through their efforts, more than 3,000 lives have been saved since the inception of the program in 2006, with over 1,500 in 2015 alone.
In addition, in 2014, Governor Cuomo launched the Combat Heroin & Prescription Drug Abuse Campaign to educate New Yorkers about the risks of heroin and prescription opioid use and provide them with resources. At the Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse website, New Yorkers can find information about preventing substance abuse; recognizing the signs of heroin and opioid use and misuse; accessing drug treatment and harm reduction services; and making one's home and community safer.
Although traditionally administered by emergency medical services or hospital personnel, naloxone can be administered by laypeople with minimal training.
Pharmacists are now able to provide this training in addition to dispensing the naloxone to their customers. All individuals who are given naloxone must still go to the hospital with EMS personnel. Naloxone is effective in blocking the effects of an opioid for 30 to 90 minutes. When the naloxone wears off, someone may slip back into a life-threatening overdose.
New Yorkers struggling with an addiction, or whose loved ones are struggling, can find help and hope by calling the State's toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or by texting HOPENY (Short Code 467369). Treatment providers can also be located by using the NYS OASAS Bed Availability Dashboard or by visiting the NYS OASAS Find Help page. Visit www.combatheroin.ny.gov for more information on addressing heroin and prescription opioid abuse, including a Kitchen Table Tool Kit to help start the conversation about the warning signs of addiction and where to get help.
Independent pharmacies wanting to dispense naloxone under HRC’s standing order should send an email to [email protected].