Making Naloxone More Widely Available Could Prevent 20,000 U.S. Deaths: WHO

Increasing the availability of the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone could prevent more than 20,000 deaths in the United States annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 69,000 people die worldwide from overdoses of heroin or other opioids each year, WHO estimates.

In most overdose cases, people using opioids misjudge the dose they are taking or their tolerance for the drug, WHO expert Nicolas Clark told Reuters. A family member is often there to witness the overdose, and that person could administer naloxone, he noted. “If opioids are easily available in people’s bathroom cabinets, it might make sense for naloxone to be equally available,” Clark said.

Naloxone, which previously was available only as an injectable drug, can now be administered as a nasal spray. It works quickly, without side effects. “We’re happy to recommend the intranasal approach as an effective approach,” Clark said. “Naloxone is cheap but it’s limited really to emergency departments and some ambulance departments.”

A growing number of states have passed laws increasing access to naloxone. As of September 2014, there were 24 states with such laws. Most of the laws allow doctors to prescribe naloxone to friends and family members of a person who abuses opioids. The laws also remove legal liability for prescribers and for those who administer naloxone.

In addition, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed “Good Samaritan” laws, which provide limited legal immunity for people who call for help for a person who is overdosing. These laws were passed in response to concerns that people who are present during an overdose may hesitate to call 911 because they fear legal consequences.

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