What is Narcan, and why is it in vending machines and at pharmacies?

The life-saving nasal spray is now available over the counter

I was having a discussion with some coworkers about the latest episode of Solutionaries, and the topic of Narcan got brought up as a potential solution to drug overdoses.

My initial reaction was quite literally, “What in the world is Narcan?”

I had never heard of it, and honestly, I had always thought there wasn’t much help for someone who was suffering from a drug overdose. I foolishly assumed that there was never much hope when someone suffered from a drug overdose, and whether they made it out alive was a luck of the draw.

I had no idea there was life-saving medication out there, and I especially didn’t know that it was becoming more accessible to the public in hopes to save more lives from deadly overdoses.

Narcan is the first opioid overdose reversal medication approved for over-the-counter purchase. It’s the nasal spray version of naloxone, which has been used by emergency personnel for years to stop fatal overdoses. When administered, naloxone blocks an opioid’s effects on the brain, and it saves people from overdoses from drugs like heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone.

Narcan is administered just like a nasal spray for allergies would be used. If you buy Narcan at a pharmacy, each container comes with two plunger devices that are filled with four miligrams on naloxone. If someone is overdosing, you just insert it into their nose, and administer the dosage.

Reports say that one dose is sufficient for someone who is overdosing, but it all depends on what drug they are overdosing on. According to reports, if a high usage of fentanyl is in a person’s system, it may take two doses of Narcan to reverse the overdose.

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With over 100,000 overdose fatalities last year alone, the accessibility of Narcan at pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Rite Aid will be a game changer. The fact that people will be able to purchase this life-saving medicine without having to call 911 could drastically change how many lives are lost to overdoses a year.

It’s not just pharmacies that you’ll see Narcan at these days. The next big push is having Narcan vending machines, so they are even more accessible in emergency situations. New York City got its first Narcan vending machine over the summer, and it already began to save lives once it was installed.

In addition to Narcan, these vending machines have fentanyl and xylazine test strips, clean pipes, and other health supplies like maxi pads, condoms and tooth brushes. It’s all a way of getting rid of the stigma surrounding drug addiction, and a way to help those who do suffer from it.

Of course, the Narcan vending machines haven’t been well received from everyone in the public. A New York Post article called it the “white flag of surrender to addiction,” but many experts argue that harm reduction ends up saving more lives in the long run.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains harm reduction as “an evidence-based approach that is critical to engaging with people who use drugs and equipping them with life-saving tools and information to create positive change in their lives and potentially save their lives.”

The debate over harm reduction will make its way over to Narcan and vending machines. While that happens, it’s a nice sign of change when drug overdoses are higher than ever.

The New York Times says a two-dose box of Narcan is roughly going for $44.99, which may seem affordable to some, but it definitely isn’t for others.

As Narcan becomes more popular and normalized, off-brand and generic versions of the medicine will begin to pop up, which will hopefully make it easier for lower income individuals to purchase.

Have you heard of Narcan yet? Do you think the vending machines full of it are a good idea? Let us know in the comments below.

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at SolutionariesNetwork.com.

About the Author

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.

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