BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There was a recent report about the tremendous need for a drug that's used to reverse heroin and opioid overdoses and now, that life-saving drug is more available than ever.
The medication Naloxone has saved hundreds of lives in the Baton Rouge metro area this year. It's carried by first responders and law enforcement, and now, you can carry it, too. All Walgreens in Louisiana are now selling the opioid antidote without a prescription. That means any person can go to any of the pharmacy's 150 locations and ask about buying Naloxone without first having to talk to a doctor.
"We really believe that by making this medication easier to obtain, we have the potential to save some lives," said Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso.
Naloxone, also sold under the brand name Narcan, is one of the only ways to reverse a heroin or opioid overdose. It can be injected or sprayed in the nose and works by blocking the brain's opioid receptors. Naloxone is also covered by many insurances and Medicaid.
Louisiana officials see the move by Walgreens as an important step in fighting a widespread opioid epidemic.
"We actually had one of the highest rates of opioid overdoes in the south," said Dr. SreyRam Kuy, the Louisiana Department of Health chief medical officer for Medicaid. "Higher than Texas, higher than Alabama, higher than Mississippi."
Over the past three years, state lawmakers have made Narcan increasingly more available. First responders and officers can use the life-saving drug without a prescription. The DEA is sending its agents out with Naloxone kits. In an emergency, civilians can administer it without risk of liability and while the drug is not available over the counter, a pharmacy can distribute it under a doctor's standing orders. The health department is also working to create a statewide standing doctor's order, which would essentially allow anyone to purchase the drug at any pharmacy.
Meanwhile, addiction experts say addressing the larger picture of prescription and opioid drug abuse in Louisiana will take time.
"People want these medications (opioids)," said Dr. Andrew Calhoun, a psychiatrist. "They demand these medications, but these medications are dangerous. Society in general has to shift its way of looking at these drugs and that's going to take time."
The downside is Naloxone can be an expensive drug. However, it is covered by most insurances and Medicaid. There are also more affordable generic options as well.