New York City pharmacies can now provide naloxone kits without a prescription. New York State must make the lifesaving heroin OD antidote available to all.

New York City’s made naloxone, which almost immediately reverses an opioid overdose, available in many pharmacies, to anyone who needs it. The city’s health commissioner announced Monday that she’s issued a standing order for naloxone, also known as Narcan, so that pharmacies can begin selling it, without a personalized prescription.

New York State’s health department, amid an opioid epidemic, has so far failed to take a similar step, despite months of discussions about doing so. There’s no reason to wait. New York should join the city and 14 other states and allow easy access to this lifesaving antidote.

Naloxone, an “opioid antagonist,” can quickly revive someone slipping into death from a heroin or pain pill OD. It’s inert when opiates aren’t present, so it can’t be abused in itself, or cause harm if wrongly administered.

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The need is clear and urgent: at least 170 people have died in the Lower Hudson Valley in connection with pain-pill abuse since 2010;  federal agents have seized almost 2,000 pounds of heroin in New York this year; from 1999 to 2010, the number of painkillers sold nationally quadrupled, according to staff writer David Robinson.

Naloxone is no fix for ending the heroin epidemic. But it is the triage.  It can “jumpstart” a person slipping into an overdose death, reversing, within minutes, the drug’s dangerous effects. Easy access to Narcan is needed to keep people alive as we continue to battle the underpinnings that feed a resurgence of heroin.

Why is heroin now commonplace in the leafy suburbs of the Lower Hudson Valley? How do we tackle a culture of pill-popping curatives, even for kids that makes such behavior normative? How to we reverse the glut of legal, prescribed opioid-based pharmaceuticals that have gained potency? What do we do to stop the market for heroin that’s cheaper and more plentiful than it’s ever been? How can we stop the abuse of prescription pain pills and heroin, both opioid-based drugs that feed the same addiction?

Those answers don’t come from easy access to naloxone, because is not the answer for battling addiction — that lies in cutting off supply, stopping demand and ensuring addiction treatment.

But, as New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, “In order to recover, you need to stay alive.”

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State Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, has been writing the state health department for more than eight months to advocate for OTC access for naloxone. “It is absurd that a New Yorker’s ability to obtain this life saving drug depends on where they live,” Carlucci said in a statement hailing New York City’s announcement.

Currently throughout New York State, individuals can obtain naloxone at a pharmacy with a prescription from a physician.  Also, the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, OASAS, supplies trainers and naloxone kits for sessions held around the state.

A state health department official said Tuesday that the department is working aggressively to enroll chain pharmacies statewide in a “comprehensive and responsible system” that would allow naloxone distribution without a prescription.

That’s not good enough. Access needs to be quick and easy for every person who knows someone at risk. The problem’s hardly abating. Just this week, the Putnam Sheriff’s Department, Westchester County police and the Northern Counties Narcotics Initiative broke up another purported heroin-dealing ring. We can expect more arrests, and sadly more overdose deaths, anon.

NALOXONE TRAINING

Individuals can receive naloxone training, and kits, through various programs. Upcoming programs include:

  • Ossining Public Library, Jan. 20, from 5:30-7 p.m.
  • Rockland Community College, Room 3214, Jan. 27 from 5:30-7 p.m.

Both are free and open to the public, all those interested in attending can RSVP by contacting Sen. David Carlucci’s office at 845-623-3627. 

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