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Despite More Prescriptions, Naloxone is Still Dramatically Underprescribed

When given promptly, naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose and save a life. But despite an increase in prescriptions since 2012, and despite being recommended as a risk mitigation strategy in the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, naloxone is still highly underprescribed, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the study, US retail pharmacy data indicated that annual naloxone prescriptions rose from 1,282 in 2012 to 556,847 in 2018, and more than doubled from 2017 to 2018. But those numbers were dwarfed by the number of high-dose opioid prescriptions over the same period, and in 2018, there was only one naloxone prescription for every 69 opioid prescriptions (556,847 naloxone versus 38,399,208 high-dose opioid). Rural counties had the lowest naloxone prescription rates.

“Naloxone distribution is an important component of the public health response to the opioid overdose epidemic,” the authors conclude. “Health care providers can prescribe or dispense naloxone when overdose risk factors are present and counsel patients on how to use it … Distribution of naloxone is a critical component of the public health response to the opioid overdose epidemic.”

The full study is available at Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing — United States, 2012–2018.

Reference: GP Guy Jr, TM Haegerich, ME Evans, JL Losby, RY Young, CM Jones. Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing — United States, 2012–2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2019;68(31);679–686.