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Naloxone needs to be more readily available at Northland pharmacies, health professionals told

John Lundy

It saves lives, and it can be obtained without a prescription at a pharmacy.

But local drug stores may not have the opioid overdose antidote naloxone on hand, and their front-line employees may not be aware they can provide it, faculty members of the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy's Duluth campus said on Monday.

"If they're not aware of it, they might turn people away," said Laura Palombi, an associate professor at the pharmacy school. "And we know that happens."

Palombi and her colleague Heather Blue, also an associate professor, led a seminar for more than 40 health professionals at Essentia Health's Miller-Dwan Auditorium in an attempt to raise awareness of the availability and effectiveness of naloxone, which quickly counteracts the deadly effects of an overdose.

"It's a really valuable tool that isn't being utilized to its full potential," Palombi said.

It's known to save lives. Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said last week that the department's officers had saved 45 lives with naloxone since beginning to carry it with them in April 2016.

Naloxone can be dispensed at pharmacies under a protocol, Palombi said. That's a standard order from a single prescriber giving the pharmacy authority to dispense the drug to anyone who asks for it. Both Walgreens and CVS, the chains with drug stores in the Twin Ports, have protocols established for all of their stores, Palombi said.

The best-known form of naloxone, which goes under the brand name Narcan, is an easily dispensed nasal spray, Blue said. Whatever the form, naloxone has almost no downsides, although the revived victim is likely to experience intense withdrawal symptoms.

If a loved one is at risk for an overdose, it makes sense to have Narcan on hand, Palombi said.

"We like to think of it as part of your first-aid kit," Palombi said. "Just as if you had somebody in your family that was diabetic you'd have Glucagon. A similar mindset when it comes to opioid use disorder, you hope you never have to use it, but if you did, you would have it available."

Yet when the College of Pharmacy surveyed local drug stores, they encountered mixed results, Blue and Palombi said.

Some pharmacies did not have even one Narcan kit on hand, Blue said, meaning an individual seeking it would face a wait of at least one day.

"Who wants to go back to the pharmacy the next day to pick up something?" she asked. "It makes sense that we have at least one product on the shelf."

Palombi said she called one local pharmacist that was part of a chain with the protocol in place, but the pharmacist who answered the phone didn't know about it.

"If not everybody knows, then it's easy for opportunities to get missed," she said.

Naloxone also can be prescribed by medical providers to caregivers of individuals who are at risk for an opioid overdose, but that's being underutilized as well, Palombi said.

"We know that not a lot of naloxone is not going out into the community from pharmacies, which also means it's not being prescribed a whole lot," she said. "It's not just about getting those protocols in place but also getting prescriptions for people that are at a high risk of overdose."

The audience on Monday consisted of pharmacists, doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and emergency medical services personnel. It was the first of four training sessions for prescribers and dispensers of medicine in the region. That will be followed by training sessions for community members on Nov. 30.

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