CVS stores will now sell naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdose, without a prescription. This recent decision will allow the general public to purchase this medication over the counter in California and 11 other states.
Opioid use and abuse
Opioids, also known as narcotics, are used to treat severe pain after surgery, a serious injury or cancer-related pain. Because these pain medications have been overprescribed, today there is an opioid addiction epidemic. In recent years, acceptance for prescription opioid use has dramatically increased for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain such as back pain or osteoarthritis. But opioids are extremely addictive and addiction causes many people to overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day 44 people in the United States die from prescription painkiller overdose.
Opioids alleviate pain but also cause other effects on the body. Opioids are known to cause constipation, dry mouth, sedation and, if taken in excess, respiratory depression or slowed breathing, which leads to death. Withdrawing from opioids also leads to severe side effects, although they are not life threatening.
Naloxone use and administration
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that acts to counteract the effects of common opioids like morphine, Vicodin and oxycodone. Naloxone can be used to reverse opioid overdose by acting on the central nervous system and allowing normal breathing in a person who overdosed. It can save someone’s life by causing opioid withdrawal.
Naloxone is an injectable drug that was once only administered by health professionals. Now people can purchase the drug at CVS without a prescription and administer it themselves. Naloxone can be injected into the muscle, into the vein or under the skin, or sprayed into the nose. Injectable naloxone comes in a lower concentration (0.4mg/1mL) than the nasal spray version (2mg/2mL). As a temporary drug, naloxone wears off in 20 to 90 minutes and has no addiction potential.
Two sides to naloxone
Since naloxone causes opioid withdrawal, side effects do occur with this medication. Opioid withdrawal includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps and gastrointestinal cramps. Unlike opioid intoxication, withdrawal is not life threatening even though it is extremely painful and one of the worst withdrawals a person will experience. Although naloxone may save lives, it’s important to know that this benefit does not come without harm. As with every medication, become educated on the uses and side effects before taking it.
Sovereign Health Group offers detoxification treatment for substance abuse, including narcotic abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call 855-683-9756 for more information.
Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer