With the U.S. opioid crisis at an all-time high—over 140 Americans die every day from opioid overdose (National Public Radio) and there were over 64,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) — private companies are taking measures to fight the epidemic.
Every Walgreen’s store in America— over 8,000 of them— is now stocking Narcan, an FDA-approved naloxone nasal spray used to treat opioid overdose. Narcan can reverse the effects of heroin and prescription opioids and save the life of someone who has overdosed (though naloxone is not a substitute for medical treatment). The spray is available without a prescription in 45 states.
CVS has also taken measures to curb the opioid crisis. As of September 2017, Narcan was being sold without a prescription at CVS stores in 43 states, and in February 2018, the chain began limiting patients to one-week supplies of prescription opioids at a time.
Walmart recently joined in the fight against opioid abuse, announcing in June 2018 that in-store pharmacies will enforce a cap on opioid prescriptions; lower daily dosage, seven-day supplies will be the norm going forward. Albertson’s pharmacists at stores across 21 states are able to provide non-prescription naloxone. Rite-Aid and Safeway have also begun similar practices on a state-by-state scale.
Designed to prevent abuse and addiction, prescription caps are hoped to keep patients on pills for shorter periods and keep excess pills from circulating, but whether the sale of Narcan itself will help prevent fatal overdoses is unknown. In the state of New York, for example, people looking to purchase the product were met with confusion by pharmacy employees or told that the product was not sold at their store or that they needed a prescription to purchase it. This comes following city-wide subway advertising about the importance of having naloxone available to prevent fatal overdose.
Narcan is also relatively expensive, and cost and insurance coverage vary by store and state.
Opioids are more dangerous than ever
Much of the reason that the opioid crisis has become so out of control is one synthetic, highly addictive opioid: fentanyl. In recent years, the deadly drug has become more and more commonplace on streets across America. Both pure fentanyl and drugs like heroin that are being cut with fentanyl— a cheaper alternative to most other opioids— are even more dangerous than opioids on their own, as a small amount of fentanyl can lead to overdose.
In 2016, fentanyl and its analogs accounted for nearly one-third of opioid-related overdoses (CDC). Often, drug users are unaware that the heroin or prescription opioids that they have purchased were cut with fentanyl, so taking the drug can be instantly fatal.
Private company measures come at a time when President Trump has declared the opioid crisis to be a “health emergency,” but there is little that has been done at the federal level.
In June 2018, the federal government launched an anti-opioid campaign in conjunction with the Truth Initiative, a non-profit focused on public health education. The ads target young adults, as the opioid crisis is also young, with 2.5 million Americans aged 18-25 reporting misusing an opioid in 2015 and in 2016 (National Institute of Health). In 2016, three-quarters of drug-related overdoses among those 15-24 were opioid-related. The campaign plays on the “shock factor,” and the short video ads depict real-life stories of young adults self-harming in extreme ways— like crashing a car into a dumpster and shutting an arm in a door— to obtain prescription opioids.
If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, we hope you’ll allow us to be a part of your recovery. As a full-service drug and alcohol detox and treatment network, Royal Life Centers treats dependence on alcohol, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines, cocaine, and opioids. Our admissions team is available 24/7 at (877)-RECOVER to answer your questions.