FDA approves over-the-counter sale of Narcan

Overdose-reversing nasal spray will be made more widely available.
The approval comes as the country deals with a record-breaking number of overdose deaths.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 3:04 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The FDA has now approved the over-the-counter sale of the overdose-reversing nasal spray known as Narcan. It comes at a time when drug overdoses are reaching near record levels across the country, and in North Carolina, where the overdose death rate increased 22% in 2021.

Scenes of the scramble to save someone from a fatal overdose have become too familiar. In public spaces and private places it’s not unusual to see people overdosing and having to be revived by emergency responders or friends with Narcan.

“I feel that if it wasn’t around that I would not be here,” said overdose survivor Katrina Bowen.

And many times there are not happy endings.

“People’s mothers are dying, people’s fathers are dying, people’s cousins, aunts, uncles, people’s children are dying because of this,” said Ashley Creek, a former drug user who now works with Rowan County Public Health.

How bad is it in North Carolina? According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, overdose deaths have:

  • Increased 22% in 2021 with a total of 4041 deaths
  • Since 2019, overdose deaths have increased 72%
  • 28,000 North Carolinians died from an overdose between 2000-20

The FDA’s move means Narcan can be sold in grocery stores, gas stations, online, and in drugstores like Moose Pharmacy, with locations in Salisbury, Concord, Kannapolis, Locust, Mount Holly and Monroe.

“I think it increase availability even are scared to come to the pharmacy and ask for it, now they can just pick it up over the counter and ring it out at the register,” said pharmacist Kyle Yoder. “Patients need to understand that if they’re taking opioids, it’s still important to carry this on them, just like you would an epi pen if you’re allergic to bee stings or peanuts, or just like it’s important for a business to have a fire extinguisher.”

“Regardless of whether you’re taking opioids recreationally, illicitly, or whether you’re taking them as a prescribed medication, you can still have an overdose, and so it’s important to have naxolone available to you, even if you’ve been on the same dose for years,” Yoder added, “you could still have an accidental overdose and so it’s very important for anybody taking opioids to have availability to it and again, it’s very important to have it on you, on your person, in your car, not just sitting in the cabinet at home.”

For those who live in rural areas, it means no longer having to drive to the health department or nearest pharmacy with a prescription.

“Having Narcan in the home, having that availability to reverse an overdose, reverse a death, is huge,” said Rowan Co. Public Health Director Alyssa Harris. “We will still provide Narcan free, so you can come to the Health Department anytime. One of our staff members will show you how to use it so you can feel comfortable being confident in that emergency situation.”

“This is just one more tool in our toolbox to really address overdose in our community,” Harris said.

And if there are more reversals, health leaders say it gives them the chance to not only save a life, but work to end the addiction. Former addict Dalton Russell says…“I’m grateful that Narcan exists. Dead people don’t recover.”

“We see reversals as a great thing because that means that that person is still alive, so we cannot help people who are no longer here with us, so for every family member, every brother or sister, we want to see them get help,” Harris added.

Yoder said it isn’t known yet when Narcan will be available in these locations or what the pricing will be. It is still available by prescription and any pharmacy in North Carolina, and is available free from the Health Department.

Related: Good Question: How to administer Narcan