As more Maryland residents die of opioid overdoses than ever before, the state has made lifesaving overdose-reversal drugs available without a prescription.
Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, can be dispensed from licensed pharmacies without the need for a prescription as of June 1, the state's Before It's Too Late drug response group announced.
"This order is yet another tool to fight this crisis and to provide immediate assistance to overdose victims,” Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary for public health services, said in a statement.
Naloxone was previously available only with a prescription or to people who had been trained in opioid overdose response. A single dose of the drug can reverse an opioid overdose. Someone overdosing on a more potent drug, like fentanyl, may need multiple doses.
In 2016, 1,856 Maryland residents died opioid-related deaths, marking a 70 percent increase over the previous year. The opioid-related death rate is highest among people age 45 to 54, state data says.
Despite the increased availability of naloxone, officials ask residents to continue to call 911 for help in the event of a drug overdose. Also, the Maryland Poison Center takes anonymous reports of naloxone use. "Your reports help us make naloxone available to others in need," an informational flyer from the state says.
The cost of Narcan may be a barrier to an increase in its use, a Baltimore pharmacist told the Baltimore Business Journal. Not all insurance plans cover the drug, and it costs $140 to $190 out of pocket, he told the paper.