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Will expanding access to naloxone OTC be the right move?

The government’s proposal to expand naloxone accessibility to OTC ran from January 24 2024 to March 6 2024. It marks a commendable effort to address the opioid crisis, says C+D’s Nana Ofori-Atta.

The government is seeking to expand the availability of naloxone without a prescription to include pharmacies. This would make the medication further accessible to individuals who are at risk of opioid overdose.


Understanding the opioid crisis


The opioid crisis has been a growing concern globally, affecting individuals and communities across various demographics. Opioid overdoses can lead to respiratory failure, resulting in death if not addressed promptly.

Read more: World Pharmacists Day: Your pharmacist is ready to see you

Naloxone works by quickly reversing the effects of opioids, restoring normal breathing and preventing fatalities.


Current access to naloxone


As of now, naloxone is available in the UK through various channels including healthcare professionals, community organisations and needle and syringe programmes.

However, the government wants to include community pharmacies as an access point for naloxone. I think that the main issues with adding naloxone accessibility to pharmacies will be the same as that of the needle exchange.

The first issue includes identifying high-risk groups. Patients who will benefit from increased access to naloxone will include individuals with a history of opioid use, those in contact with opioid users and community members likely to witness an overdose. How will they be identified?

Read more: One slight alteration could avert a crisis as medicine shortages deepen

There is also the issue around exploring distribution channels. The government is seeking potential distribution channels for naloxone, including it being available OTC through community pharmacies or other accessible outlets.

A crucial aspect of expanding naloxone accessibility is raising awareness about its availability and proper use. This will require further training and education for the public, healthcare professionals and communities about naloxone.


Read more: The way forward: Remote supervision in community pharmacy


The stigma around opioid use needs to be addressed, otherwise it can hinder efforts to provide life-saving interventions. This requires pharmacy professionals to reduce stigma and encourage a more compassionate and supportive approach to individuals struggling with opioid addiction.


Why expanding accessibility to naloxone matters


Timely intervention saves lives and opioid overdoses can happen unexpectedly. Expanding access to naloxone increases the likelihood of timely administration, significantly reducing the risk of fatalities.


Making naloxone more widely available may also empower communities to take an active role in addressing the opioid crisis. Friends, family members and community members can play a crucial part in saving lives when equipped with the necessary tools.


Read more: We must scrap paracetamol multi-buy deals once and for all


Moreover, by preventing opioid-related deaths, expanded naloxone access can contribute to reducing the burden on healthcare systems and emergency services. This, in turn, allows resources to be directed more effectively towards prevention and treatment efforts.


I think that the government’s decision on expanding accessibility to naloxone marks a commendable effort by the UK government to address the opioid crisis head-on. This expansion of naloxone access has the power to save lives, empower communities and make significant strides in combating the opioid crisis.


Nana Ofori-Atta is the managing editor clinical and custom content at C+D.

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