As Narcan heads to store shelves, free doses and training still available

Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 2:16 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The company that makes Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug, announced this week the product will be available for over-the-counter purchase as soon as this weekend.

The four-milligram naloxone nasal spray is the first FDA-approved product for treatment of an opioid overdose, including fentanyl. It was launched in 2016.

Harm reductionists and other community groups have praised the move to making it available for over-the-counter purchase.

“Because that’s putting it out there for someone that may not be comfortable coming to a harm reduction program,” said Lisa Via, Harm Reduction Manager for the Drop-In Center North in Roanoke City. The centers, run by the Council of Community Services, offer recovery resources, test kits, health tests, syringe exchanges and Narcan to registered participants.

Emergent BioSolutions says the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is about $45. Retailers will ultimately set the price. But Via said that may be too expensive for people in active substance use.

“A lot of our folks are housing-insecure, experiencing homelessness, food insecurity,” said Via. “So if they have $45, even $22, it’s going to go for possibly food, transportation, getting them somewhere to a doctor’s appointment. So yeah, I absolutely do not see it being affordable for the clients that I serve.”

That’s why many organizations and agencies will continue to hand out the medication for free.

That includes both of the Drop-In centers established by the Council of Community Services in Roanoke. They access the product through a Harm Reduction grant through the Virginia Department of Health at no cost to the program.

“Not an outreach day goes by that I don’t hear, ‘I’m so glad I had the Narcan that you guys gave me. It helped me save my brother, my boyfriend, my wife,’” said Via. “So there’s not a day goes by that we do not have reports that it has saved someone someone’s life.”

The product will also be available for free through the Virginia Department of Health, which is also offering trainings on how to administer Narcan, something Via sees as vital.

“There is a compassion talk that goes behind administering Narcan to someone,” she said. “They may not feel so well when they do wake up. So it’s that compassion. It’s that sense of caring that you stick around once you administer that Narcan. It’s knowing that that person may not feel well. There’s, there’s a lot of stigma behind someone receiving Narcan or Naloxone may wake up agitated or anxious or wanting to fight or angry. But the main conversation needs to be, ‘you may not feel so well; I administered Narcan. And I’m so glad you’re here right now.’”

The Virginia Department of Health offers REVIVE! training every month. REVIVE! is the Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education (OONE) program for the Commonwealth of Virginia. REVIVE! provides training on how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose emergency using naloxone.

In the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, there are in-person trainings every second Thursday of the month at the Roanoke City Health Department located at 1502 Williamson Rd. NE. Trainings take place on the second floor from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

There are also monthly virtual trainings. They are held every third Tuesday of the month via Google Meet from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m.

The product will also be available through Virginia’s Harm Reduction Coalition. The group’s motto is “We love you. Be safe. Carry Naloxone.”

Some community services boards will also provide the product, as well as some doctor’s offices. You can also contact Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare.

Via encourages everyone to get a box of the medicine if possible, saying you never know when you could safe a life.

“Drug overdoses do not just happen in a place where it’s common in our city for drug use... they can happen anywhere and everywhere,” Via said. “So just because you don’t personally know someone that uses drugs, you may come upon someone at a festival, on vacation at the lake... Because on the flip side of that you have enabled someone to continue breathing and possibly make that choice to enter into recovery, if that’s a point in their life, that they’re ready for that.”

Emergent BioSolutions said in a statement it is “focused on broadening distribution and maintaining affordability.” Emergent will lower its public interest price to $41 per two-dose carton, effective August 31, which is also known as National Overdose Awareness Day. Qualified groups can continue to use the company’s online portal to buy and ship bulk quantities of the product.

You can watch a tutorial on how to properly administer Naloxone here: