Pharmacists Slow To Dispense Lifesaving Overdose Drug

Kaiser Health News, January 3, 2018

They cite several reasons, including low public awareness, heavy workloads, fear that they won't be adequately paid and reluctance to treat drug-addicted people.

This article first appeared January 03, 2018 on Kaiser Health News.

By Anna Gorman

A pharmacist at a Walgreens store in New York City holds a box of the overdose antidote naloxone in 2016. Laws in most states, including California, allow pharmacists to provide naloxone without a doctor’s prescription, but many don’t do so. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible.

But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug.

“I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”

In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. They cite several reasons, including low public awareness, heavy workloads, fear that they won’t be adequately paid and reluctance to treat drug-addicted people.

In 48 states and Washington, D.C., pharmacists have flexibility in supplying the drug without a prescription to patients, or to their friends or relatives, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. But as in California, pharmacists in many states, including Wisconsin and Kentucky, have divergent opinions about whether to dispense naloxone.

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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