Vermonters will no longer need a prescription to obtain naloxone — a fasting-acting drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose — at CVS Health locations around the state, the pharmacy chain announced last week.
Gov. Peter Shumlin joined CVS Heath at its Colchester branch on March 30 to applaud the pharmacy for establishing a standing order with physicians to provide the drug over-the-counter.
In an overdose, opioids can slow a person’s breathing to the point of death. Naloxone reverses the effects by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors, helping to restore normal breathing.
CVS will sell the two-dose kits for $60 to $90, according to Erin Britt, a CVS spokeswoman.
Medicaid will cover the drug’s cost for beneficiaries, state officials said at the news conference on Wednesday.
“Our efforts to expand the availability of naloxone have saved hundreds of lives and given Vermonters a second chance to get into recovery and get back on track,” Shumlin said in a news release. “I want to thank CVS for taking this step to help further expand the availability of naloxone in Vermont and around the country.”
To date, Vermont has distributed over 7,000 of overdose reversals kits that have been used to reverse at least 400 overdoses, according to Shumlin’s news release.
CVS’ announcement comes two months after Shumlin dedicated a portion of his State of the State Address to resolving the opiate crisis.
Fatal drug overdoses killed more than 47,000 Americans in 2014, doubling since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vermont has felt the effects; the state’s health department reported 92 drug-related deaths in 2014.
Fifty-three of these deaths were ruled accidental, and heroin played a role in 31 of these cases, while fentanyl — a painkiller 100 times as powerful as morphine — was present in 17. In 2010, these two drugs were responsible for two accidental deaths combined.
While naloxone previously required an injection, a nasal spray version of naloxone brand Narcan was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last November, making it easier to administer.
The shift inspired some police agencies throughout the country to begin carrying naloxone, including all Vermont state troopers since March 2014.
Locally, Milton police carry Narcan, while police in Essex and Colchester don’t — each town’s rescue squads do, however.
In February, Burlington police announced they revived a 56-year-old Colchester man with the drug, the department’s first instance of saving a life since starting to carry Narcan earlier this year.
The Vermont Intelligence Center, part of the Vermont State Police, doesn’t require police agencies to report naloxone usage.
The Essex and Colchester rescue squads purchase naloxone through the University of Vermont Medical Center at around $27 per 2 milligram pre-loaded syringe — not including the cost of the nasal atomizer, which can run up to $6 a pop.
Dan Manz, executive director of Essex Rescue, said his department used 11 doses of Narcan in 2013, 17 in 2014 and 20 in 2015. He noted some people require more than one dosage, so it’s hard to tell how many people were involved in these incidents.
Colchester Rescue reported a more drastic rise. In 2013, three people were provided Narcan, while four people received the drug in 2014. Last year, however, 12 people received the drug, according to Colchester Rescue Chief Amy Akerlind.
While both Manz and Akerlind said the rise could be due to a combination of factors — including administering the drug as a last-resort attempt to resuscitate a person who may have had a heart attack or other ailment, but is not suspected of overdosing — they agreed the rise of opioid abuse is a major contributor.