Although the opioid crisis has resulted in approximately 450,000 deaths since 1999, evidence shows that increasing the availability of naloxone—a prescription medication that reverses the respiratory depression caused by an opioid overdose—reduces the rate of opioid overdose deaths. Naloxone can be safely administered to prevent overdose-related injuries and death not only by medical professionals but also by lay people who witness an overdose. And it’s been shown that increasing access to naloxone does not increase nonmedical opioid use.
All U.S. states have enacted at least one law that expands access to naloxone. However, the scope of these laws differs, and not all of them ensure that naloxone can get into the hands of people most likely to experience or witness an opioid overdose. Some states have taken more innovative approaches to increase access to naloxone beyond the pharmacy: for example, by permitting naloxone distribution in community-based and corrections settings to people who use drugs and to their family and friends.
Providers who prescribe or dispense naloxone can play a role in expanding the number of people who receive it. States can enact policies that require or allow physicians and other prescribers to write individual naloxone prescriptions to patients who use opioids and to their friends and family.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that clinicians co-prescribe naloxone to patients who are at high risk of overdose, such as those who have a high-dose opioid prescription or are concurrently prescribed any combination of opioids and benzodiazepines. After states began following these guidelines in 2017, rates of co-prescribing naloxone among these patient populations increased, with the highest co-prescription rates in states that formally implemented co-prescribing regulations.