Iowans will have wider access to opioid overdose medication naloxone

Naloxone -- photo via the  Pennsylvania Governor's Office
Naloxone — photo via the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office

Iowans will be able to go to a pharmacy for medication to reverse opioid overdoses without needing to get a prescription first under a new program announced Monday during Gov. Terry Branstad’s weekly press conference.

The program opens access to those at risk of opioid overdose, their family and friends and first responders through a standing order issued by the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. The medication, naloxone, can treat opioid overdoses due to prescription pain killers and illicit drugs like heroin, and is available in both a nasal spray and as an injection. But recent price increases — including for some versions of the drug that have multiplied in cost to as much as 17 times what they were two years ago — have raised concern about accessibility.

This comes in the midst of what public officials are calling an opioid epidemic. Nationwide, opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 2000 and opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Iowa, overdose deaths primarily from prescription opioids or narcotics hit a high in 2013 with 77 deaths, although that number decreased to 42 in 2014, according to data from the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. Opioid-related emergency department visits in Iowa have doubled over the past few years, reaching a high of 1,555 visits in 2014.

“We are doing everything we can to prevent, treat, and respond to the opioid epidemic,” Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a press release published by the governor’s office on Monday. “Naloxone is not a cure for an opioid overdose, however it can buy critical time until emergency treatment is available and long-term treatment can be provided. This can mean the difference between life and death.”

According to the press release, Iowa is the 18th state to expand access to naloxone through pharmacists. Previously, individuals needed to get a prescription before being able to go to a pharmacy to pick up naloxone.

Those looking for more information about opioid overdoses — including some of the signs of an overdose, information about how to respond to an overdose and basic instructions for administering naloxone — can access a brochure created by the Iowa Department of Public Health.