Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose within minutes, will imminently be available over-the-counter in drugstores, according to Vox. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter purchase in March, Narcan has been shipped to mass drug, pharmacy, and grocery stores, such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Rite Aid, as well as online retailers, and is expected to hit shelves this month, its manufacturer, Emergent BioSolutions, said. Walgreens announced it would stock Narcan online as soon as Tuesday, with nationwide availability on Thursday. Narcan, also known as naloxone, is the first opioid overdose reversal medication to be sold without a prescription, providing greater accessibility for a drug that has been shown to reduce opioid deaths nationwide. More than 80,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2021, up from 68,630 in 2020. "Seeing it there on the shelf really helps remind us that the opioid crisis affects every county in the country,” says Shawn Westfahl of Prevention Point Philadelphia, a non-profit organization that works to reduce the harms associated with drug use.
Increasing Narcan’s visibility is a step toward addressing the opioid crisis, but a number of factors still make it difficult for people to access it. The $45 price tag for two doses can be prohibitive, Westfahl says, especially for those who are unhoused or financially insecure. Westfahl hopes vouchers or coupons could be distributed to customers to help lower the cost. Because of the price tag, it’s also imperative that local harm reduction programs continue to distribute free naloxone to vulnerable communities. Presentation in the store can be a deterrent. Customers may be turned off if Narcan is locked behind a display in a drugstore, requiring a worker to open the case. Other drugstores said Narcan will be available in pain care or over-the-counter medication aisles or at the pharmacy counter. Another concern is the future coverage of Narcan by insurance companies. “Sometimes when a medication is over the counter, insurance stops covering that medication,” says Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, an addiction medicine physician at UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. “We are waiting to see what approach insurers will take to naloxone now that it is over the counter. I am hopeful that they will [cover] naloxone … despite there being an over-the-counter option."