“This new policy is saving lives”
The couple returned home from the movies to find their son unresponsive, with a syringe by his bed. It was a scene they dreaded could happen, despite his recent rehab stay for heroin addiction.
Fighting back panic, they called 911 and then took a step that would save their son’s life. They retrieved a small kit from the kitchen and from it they grabbed a nasal syringe pre-filled with naloxone, an antidote for an opioid overdose.
Within three minutes of spraying it in his nose, their son was regaining consciousness and he was soon whisked away to the hospital by paramedics.
This life-saving sequence would have been impossible even a year ago. But, now loved ones, friends, even those struggling with addiction themselves can visit some pharmacies in Massachusetts and acquire the naloxone kits – without a physician’s prescription.
“This new policy is saving lives,” said Peter Scarafile, pharmacy director at Cape Cod Healthcare.
The pharmacies at the Stoneman Outpatient Center in Sandwich and Fontaine Outpatient Center in Harwich are among those on Cape Cod now permitted to dispense naloxone, also known as narcan. No prescription is needed and most insurances cover the cost.
Naloxone is available now at the Stoneman pharmacy and will be available beginning Monday, March 14, at the Fontaine pharmacy.
“Given the impact opioid overdoses has on the Cape, we want to take a leading role in educating not only those with substance abuse disorder, but also their friends, family and general public about naloxone,” said Scarafile. “As part of the healthcare system, our pharmacies are very well positioned to dispense this drug without a prescription.”
There are two ways to administer naloxone, explained Scarafile. Hospital staff and emergency medical technicians are trained to inject the drug by needle into the upper arm. The other way, preferred for the lay person, is a nasal spray.
Naloxone attaches to the same parts of the brain that receive heroin and other opioids, and it blocks the opioids for 30-90 minutes to reverse the respiratory depression that would otherwise lead to death from overdose, he explained.
The injection or spray will provide enough time for the victim to be rushed to the hospital for further treatment, before the maximum 90 minutes elapses.
“It’s critical, however, that 911 is called when administering naloxone because the impact of an overdose most likely will last longer than the antidote’s effectiveness,” he warned. “It is not a substitute for calling the rescue squad. It is not a miracle drug that fixes the problem.”
Addiction to opioids – including prescription medications like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine and codeine – is mounting across the state and especially on Cape Cod at an alarming rate.
In 2000, 338 people across Massachusetts died from overdoses, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. By 2014, that number had exploded to 1,256. That’s five overdoses per 1,000 state residents in 2000, versus nearly 19 per 1,000 in 2014.