Surgeon General wants everyone to keep an overdose antidote on hand

The rare public health advisory comes 13 years after the last one.
April 5, 2018, 11:30am

As the United States’ opioid epidemic continues to spiral out of control, the surgeon general issued a rare public health advisory: He wants Americans to keep naloxone on hand, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

“We should think of naloxone like an EpiPen or CPR,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NPR on Thursday, shortly after he issued the advisory urging more people to carry naloxone in their everyday lives. The last Surgeon General public health advisory came 13 years ago, to warn pregnant women of the dangers of drinking.

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If someone is overdosing on an opioid, an injection or spray of naloxone can quickly revive them. States and communities have sought to increase access to naloxone in recent years, through efforts like mandating that all law enforcement officers carry the drug and passing “Good Samaritan” laws that ensure people who use naloxone are immune from legal penalties. Adams said his agency is also working to increase training for healthcare professionals on how to administer the drug in home settings.

Best known by the brand name Narcan, naloxone is available over the counter in most states, and it’s increasingly covered by insurance, according to the nonprofit Network for Public Health Law.

READ: These states might drastically underreport opioid deaths

“Surgeon general advisories are issued when there is a major health problem and a need for a call to action," Adams, whose own brother has struggled with addiction and is now incarcerated, told USA Today. "One of the things we're trying to do is help the public understand that we're losing a person every 12.5 minutes from an opioid overdose.”

Experts have so far been largely unimpressed by the Trump administration’s efforts to curb opioid-linked overdoses, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the more than 63,000 drug-overdose deaths that took place in the United States in 2016. (And those numbers are on the rise: opioid-linked deaths spiked more than 27 percent between 2015 and 2016.) In October, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a “public health emergency” — a designation that, while perhaps symbolically powerful, only gave HHS about $57,000 in funding to fight the growing crisis. That speech also didn’t touch on expanding access to naloxone, which can cost hundreds of dollars and has become prohibitively expensive for many communities.

However, Congress’s recent bipartisan budget deal will funnel about $6 billion over the next two years into fighting the opioid epidemic.

“There are different grants available for states to purchase naloxone, which they can give out for free,” Adams said, adding that he’s talking to insurers and pharmaceutical companies about ways to keep naloxone cheap. “From an economic point of view, unfortunately, there are so many people who need naloxone that drug companies are going to make their money one way or the other.”

Cover image: In this Feb. 13, 2018, file photo, Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks during a National African American History Month reception hosted by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)