Obama Is Doubling The Distribution Of A Drug That Reverses Heroin Overdoses

The contents of an emergency opioid overdose kit includes the drug naloxone. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM COLE
The contents of an emergency opioid overdose kit includes the drug naloxone. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM COLE

Heroin addiction in the United States has never been worse. Between 2011 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly doubled, with more than 8,200 deaths in 2013.

In hopes of easing this alarming trend, President Obama announced on Wednesday plans to expand access to naloxone, the drug used to reverse a heroin overdose that can potentially save lives. If administered quickly enough, naloxone has a 90 percent success rate.

Obama traveled to Charleston, West Virginia — the state with an overdose rate more than twice the national average — to unveil a slew of new programs created across the public and private sectors to combat addiction to heroin and other opioids, including prescription painkillers. While many of these proposals offer vague policy and education initiatives that are difficult to quantify, the administration’s goal toward widespread access to naloxone is clear: These new programs may double the number of providers that prescribe naloxone.

A few interesting pieces of this broad program bundle stand out from the rest — and seem to promise more immediate change:

  • CVS Pharmacy will expand its 1-month-old program selling naloxone to patients without a prescription from locations in 12 states to 32 states in 2016.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will put $1.8 million toward helping rural communities purchase naloxone and train first responders in its use.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service will provide BIA police officers and investigators with the naloxone.
  • The Fraternal Order of Police will provide their 330,000 members with information on how to identify and treat opioid overdoses, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police will host sessions on the role of law enforcement in overdose prevention. An expanding number of state and city governments currently require their police officers to carry naloxone at all times.

This movement comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s August announcement of a $2.5 million strategy to combat heroin abuse, marketing it as a public health problem — rather than a mere criminal justice issue. Naloxone use in particular has found increased support across party lines, as many states hit hardest by opioid addiction are conservative-led.