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Local recovery experts have mixed feelings about over the counter Narcan

Denise Young

The overdose reversal drug, Narcan, will soon be available on store shelves and from online retailers, but some local recovery experts have mixed feelings about it.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the decision this week to approve over-the-counter sales for the nasal-spray packaging of Narcan. This approval comes as the country continues to see an increase in overdose related deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 101,751 overdose fatalities within a 12-month period ending in October.

The FDA said the approval will make the medicine more widely available and accessible across the U.S., ultimately saving more lives. Kelly Reed, CEO of Huther Doyle, a local nonprofit that provides resources for people in recovery and their families, said she fears that the cost of the Narcan - without insurance - may be too high for people who need it.

“It'll be interesting to see what happens,” Reed said. “Most private and public medical providers do not offer insurance for an over-the-counter drug. Whether or not they ultimately will decide to do that for Narcan is probably a long time off.”

Joy Auch, director of communications of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, said the insurance company is “closely following this developing issue to ensure continued compliance with state and federal regulations.”

Reed said she is also concerned that the stigma attached to drug use will make some people too embarrassed to bring Narcan to the counter for purchase. The same stigma, she said, may also prevent some pharmacies from even putting the drug on their shelves.

“I worry about the pharmacy that says I don't want to carry it because I don't want that clientele coming into my pharmacy,” Reed said. She hopes that the OTC purchase option helps “push the envelope” on the stigma and opens the public up to “a much more enlightened way” of thinking about drug use disorder.

“Opioid addiction is a disease. It's not a choice,” Reed said. “Many times it has started as a result of medication that was made available to people. So why would we not make the antidote to an overdose available to them at the same time?”

Dr. Myra Mathis, medical director for Strong Recovery, part of Strong Memorial Hospital’s Addiction Services, said the over-the-counter availability of Narcan should be in addition to free programs currently available..

“Let's not limit the spaces where Narcan has already been made available just because it is now available over the counter,” Mathis said. She added that the funding and support for the already existing programs should continue at the same rate and level as they are now.

The company that produces Narcan, Emergent BioSolutions, said it hopes to make it available in stores and online by late summer.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.