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Statewide prescription makes opioid antidote available

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

A life-saving antidote for narcotic overdoses became available to all Michigan residents following action Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder, though pharmacies may not be ready to distribute the medication.

Naloxone is a fast-acting medication that reverses opioid overdoses that caused nearly 2,000 deaths in Michigan in 2015. Nearly 900 people died in Wayne County alone in 2016.

Snyder authorized the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue a standing order — akin to a statewide prescription — pre-authorizing the distribution of naloxone by pharmacists.

The distribution effort may be delayed because pharmacies must register with the state to participate. Registration opened for pharmacies on Thursday.

The medication can immediately reverse the effects of opioids — such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone and Vicodin — that can cause people to stop breathing. It also can reverse the effects of super-powerful drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are increasingly being mixed with heroin and often result in death.

Michigan joins at least 30 other states where naloxone is available without a personal prescription, though some pharmacies — including some Walgreens and Meijer store outlets — provide the medication without a prescription. Rescue workers, law enforcement officers and Michigan State Police have been carrying it for more than a year.

“Naloxone is a tool in the fight against opioid addiction that can save lives immediately and we need to make sure all residents statewide have access, both in rural areas and urban centers,” Snyder said in a press release Thursday.

“Our entire state has been affected by this horrible epidemic. I have said that state government will use all possible resources to reverse the course of the opioid crisis.”

The legislation clearing the way for the distribution passed in December, and the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) had been tasked to develop administrative rules to administer the law. Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, said LARA filed those rules Thursday.

“This medication will go in and actually interfere with all of the effects of all the (opioids), and the person will immediately wake up,” Wells said. “For somebody that’s overdosing and can’t breathe, this medicine very quickly reverses the effect.”

Pharmacists are being asked to educate people on how to administer the medication. Naloxone is available in an injectible form, as well as in a nasal spray under the brand name Narcan. The average cost is about $45, Wells said.

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has been providing training and kits for more than a year to EMS workers, police and community groups, such as churches.

Dr. Carmen McIntyre, the authority’s chief medical officer, said: “We haven’t been waiting for (state officials) to make that decision.”

Adding, “We’ve now given out about 1,900 kits. As of yesterday we had 47 deployments and 46 saves.”

In Michigan, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths increased to 6.8 per 100,000 residents in 2015 from 1.1 per 100,000 residents in 2007, according to DHHS data. Deaths attributed to opioids, including heroin and prescription drugs, increased to 1,275 in 2015, up from 473 deaths in 2007.

Wells said it’s critical for people to know they should call 911 the minute they think someone is overdosing. Even if they have a kit and administer the drug, the victim will require additional care.

“They absolutely must call 911 because the stronger drugs, sometimes you give the one dose, they wake up, but then they drop back down into the coma again,” Wells said.

Opioids

■To learn more about drug treatment services available near you, visit www.michigan.gov/bhrecovery

■Wayne County residents can call the 24-7 drug helpline at (800) 241-4949

■Pharmacies can register to distribute OTC naloxone at www.michigan.gov/naloxone