Narcan Kits: Not Just for Heroin Overdoses

A CDC report recommends that when physicians prescribe opioids, appropriate patients should also get naloxone kits in case they overdose.

With a rise in US deaths from prescription opioid abuse, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers suggest that lay people prescribed these pain killers also get naloxone (Narcan) kits and training in how to use them.

The recommendation is in a new report in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly (MMWR). It did not specify whether all prescription opioid users should get the kits or whether they should be given only to patients wiho use the painkillers for an extended time.

The conclusion is part of a study due to be published June 19 in MMWR that shows distributing naloxone kits to appropriate lay people has reversed opioid substance overdoses in at least 26,463 people. That is in addition to patients treated by emergency medical service personnel and other medical professionals who have long used the drug. It has been available since the 1970s.

Researchers Eliza Wheeler, MPA of the Harm Reduction Coalition in Oakland, CA and colleagues at other organizations in Massachusetts and California surveyed 140 organizations known to provide the kits to lay people. They found 152,283 lay people got the kits from 1996 through June 2014.

Most of the people who received the kits (81.6%) were drug users. The rest were family and friends (11.7%), service providers (3.3%) or their status was uknown.

Heroin was involved in 81.6% of the reversed overdoses.

Policies on distribution varied. Some people got the kits from nonmedical staff or volunteers (44.1%). Others (36%) got them from medical personnel and 28.7% got them from pharmacists.

The contents of the kits also varied, with nearly 80% containing injectable naloxone and about 20% using an intranasal version of the drug.

“Providing naloxone kits to laypersons reduces overdose deaths, is safe, and is cost-effective,” the researchers concluded.

Though the focus has been on illicit drug use, they also wrote that providing naloxone should be “a component of responsible opioid prescribing.”

“Additional interventions are needed to reach persons who may witness prescription opioid analgesic overdoses, which account for nearly twice as many deaths as heroin overdoses.”

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids.