War on Drugs

Overdoses, Overcome

California naloxone access


In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill legalizing access to naloxone from pharmacists without a prescription. The drug, which can reverse opiate overdoses in process, will still not be available over the counter, as the state will require buyers to receive minimal education in its use based on guidelines that are still in development.

The drug, also known by the trade name Narcan, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1971. Emergency medical personnel have long used it in the field to save lives, and it can be administered by nasal spray or injection. Several other states have also recently widened the legal availability of the drug, including Washington, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and New Mexico.

Naloxone is non-abusable and non-addictive. Departing Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out about the drug's value last March, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, even with its availability legally restricted, it has saved over 10,000 lives since 1996.

In September, a coalition of urban health officials called the Big Cities Health Coalition recommended that the FDA work on the federal level to expand access to naloxone, including full over-the-counter availability for anyone who thinks they might need it.