Opioid addiction is sweeping across America. Health officials have called it the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. According to the Center of Disease Control, deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999, and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Opioids are prescription pain medications as well as heroin. Opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors on cells in the brain and throughout the body. When opioid drugs attach to these receptors, they dull a person’s perception of pain. But opioids also affect the brain’s reward system, which can make people feel euphoric or high.
Common opioid pain relievers include:
• Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
• Oxycodone (OxyContin)
• Oxymorphone (Opana)
Prescription opioid use varies from state to state according to age, ethnicity, and gender. The CDC provides the following:
• Older adults (aged 40 years and older) are more likely to use prescription opioids than adults ages 20-39.
• Women are more likely to use prescription opioids than men.
• Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to use prescription opioids than Hispanics. There are no significant differences in use between non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks.
One way to combat opioid overdose is the administration of naloxone (Narcan). Naloxone blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication and can work within 2-5 minutes, depending on how it’s administered.
In 2015, CVS announced it will add 12 states to its program to sell naloxone with a prescription, bringing the total states to 14, and as of this last December, Walgreens made naloxone available without a prescription in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Rick Gates, Walgreens group VP of Pharmacy said, “By making naloxone available without a prescription, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it’s needed,” Gates continued, “As a pharmacy we are here to help people, and we are committed to making naloxone more accessible in the communities we serve.”
As a pharmacy technician, student, or professional, it’s important for you to know where your state stands in the fight against opioid overdoses, and how naloxone is made available to customers in your pharmacy.