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Over-The-Counter Narcan Approved, Cost May Limit Access

If Narcan, the nasal spray that saves lives by reversing opioid overdoses, gets approval to be sold over the counter, public health officials hope the palm-size plunger could become as commonplace as a kitchen fire extinguisher. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the switch from prescription status this week, a step sought by state health officials and welcomed by parents worried about teens taking counterfeit, fentanyl-tainted pills and by owners of businesses where people have succumbed to overdoses, reports the New York Times. By late summer, the rescue medication could be available in corner convenience stores, vending machines and through online retailers. It could help to reduce national overdose deaths, which have exceeded 100,000 annually in the last two years.

Clinics and harm reduction groups, which have advocated the switch, worry that the price and the stigma that surrounds the medication may impede widespread access. A two-dose pack of prescription Narcan is often free to people covered by Medicaid or private insurance, or it may cost less than $10. Public and private insurance programs do not cover most over-the-counter medicines. Whether an exception will be made for Narcan could take months to resolve. A New York City pharmacy now charges $98 for the two-dose box of Narcan to customers without insurance. A pharmacy chain in New Jersey charges $73. Narcan’s manufacturer, Emergent BioSolutions, declined to disclose the price plans for an over-the-counter version. The company said it would “work with public interest” groups, who are now charging about $47.50 a box. Health economists predict the new price could land between $35 and $65 — plus a retailer’s markup. “People who really need it won’t be able to afford it, so it is much more likely that it becomes an item that is shoplifted,” said Jim Thacker of the Target4 Project, a statewide program based at the University of Kentucky that gives out free Narcan.

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