Everyone should be carrying the overdose reversal medication naloxone, advocates say
The FDA approved an over-the-counter nasal spray naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, in March, allowing the opioid overdose reversal medication to be sold directly to consumers.
“While it is an amazing step, to allow more availability, it has done nothing for our work,” said Nichole Dawsey, the executive director of PreventEd, which is a nonprofit focused on harm reduction through education and advocacy.
“Most of the people that we're giving Narcan to are either — A: lacking insurance and they're not going to go into CVS or Walgreens and pay the $30 copay,” she said. “Or B: There's such shame and stigma that surrounds this, the last thing they're going to do is … go into a pharmacy and say, ‘Oh, hey, I think I need Narcan.’”
The Biden administration has expressed a desire to work with pharmaceutical makers to make the medication more affordable. At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering requiring naloxone to be included in medical kits on all airlines.
John Gaal witnessed firsthand the medication’s ability to save lives when he stepped in to administer Narcan to a fellow passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight in October 2022.
“When we shot him with the Narcan, we put the oxygen mask on him, rolled him onto his side in the rescue position, [and] within three minutes, he had come back to life. That cemented in my mind why we call this ‘the Lazarus drug.’ I saw someone come back to life,” Gaal said.
He is hopeful that the FAA will decide to include naloxone in its emergency kits by the end of the summer.
“I think this is one of those issues that if we do not take action, more and more people are going to die,” he added.
PreventEd offers training on how to deliver naloxone via nasal spray. Dawsey hopes that someday soon, everyone will carry a couple of doses with them as they go about their day (sometimes, especially with fentanyl, multiple doses are necessary).
“Everyone should be carrying it,” she said. “Many times we hear people say: ‘Oh, I don't need that. I don't know anyone that uses drugs.’ We all know somebody, but guess what? We all fly on planes. We all go to the grocery store. … The time I had to use it, I was at the farmers market.”
Gaal and Dawsey joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss what it means to carry naloxone, why people should consider carrying it with them and what needs to happen for the lifesaving medication to reach those who need it. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.