A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the availability of the counter opioid drug naloxone could prevent tens of thousands of overdose deaths each year.
In a WHO report issued this week, the organization calls on countries around the world to increase the availability of the over-the-counter drug naloxone in an effort to combat increasing overdose-related deaths.
Naloxone is a generic drug that has been available for more than 40 years and is designed to counter overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, and tramadol. The drug is considered safe among government health officials and has a low risk of serious side effects.
The WHO claims that an estimated 20,000 lives could be saved each annually in the United States if the drug were more prevalent.
While naloxone does not necessarily cure a person following a near overdose, it plays an important role in buying professionals time to implement an intervention, said Rosanna Cunningham, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.
Scotland Success Leads WHO To Recommend Widescale Use
WHO’s article explains how important the drug could be to society if it were more readily available in families or communities where drug overdoses are common.
The first country to experiment with a public program for the drug was Scotland, which saw an significant spike is overdoses in 2009, reaching 545 drug-related deaths. Starting in 2010, Scotland implemented the “Take Home Naloxone” program that allowed the drug to become accessible after specialist training to people at risk of opioid overdose with hope to spread awareness to their close friends and family.
According to a report by the National Health Service, approximately 6,500 Naloxone kits were issued to people in Scotland between 2012 and 2013. The report indicated that the number of drug related deaths fell from 581 in 2011 to 526 by the end of 2013.
Officials are not entirely sure that the decrease of drug related deaths can be attributed to the Naloxone kits being distributed to areas prone to overdoses. However, the number of overdoses in Scotland finally began to decrease after being on the rise for three consecutive years.
WHO’s report explains the impact the drug could have on countries such as the United States, China, and Russia; which all are among the leaders in opioid related deaths from overdose.
Globally, an estimated 69,000 people die from opioid overdose per year. Those who overdose are individuals who misjudge the dose or their own tolerance for the opioid, and their death is often witnessed by a family member who would be nearby to administer Naloxone.
Over the last 40 years naloxone has been used intravenously, which could deter some patients from using it. However, Naloxone is now available in a new intranasal spray, which is more affordable and could work within 2-3 minutes and carry minimal side effects. As of now, the nasal form is primarily used among emergency service providers, such as ambulance departments.
On September 17, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that found prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2011. Dr. Holly Hedegaard, lead author of the report and injury epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistic, said misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, specifically painkillers, impacted more than 40,000 people, with more than 40% of those involving opioid analgesics or narcotic painkillers resulting in intentional or unintentionaloverdose deathsin 2011.
In 2012, the CDC released a report which indicated prescription drug overdoses have reached epidemic proportions. Prescription drug overdoses kill someone in the U.S every 19 minutes. The number of deaths attributed to painkillers have exceeded those linked to cocaine and heroin combined since 2003.