Naloxone kit, as purchased over the counter.
Rick Madonik—Toronto Star via Getty Images
By Abigail Abrams
April 5, 2018

The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, issued a public health advisory on Thursday urging more Americans to carry and learn to use the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Naloxone, which is often referred to by the brand name Narcan, can be lifesaving for people overdosing on opioids. As the nation’s opioid crisis has increased in recent years, first responders, emergency medical technicians and police officers have used naloxone to help revive people who are suspected of overdosing.

Adams said Thursday that community members, family and friends of people using opioids, and individuals using the drugs themselves, can help too. “Knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life,” he said in the advisory.

Here’s what you need to know about naloxone.

What is naloxone?

Naloxone is a medication that suspends the effects of an opioid overdose until emergency responders arrive. It works by blocking the opiate receptor sites and reverses the effects of an overdose, restoring a normal breathing pattern.

The drug can be administered through a nasal spray or as an injection. One form of injection, given as a shot, requires some professional training.

There is an easier naloxone shot, sold as Evzio and made by Kaleo, which you can buy without a prescription. This auto-injectable device comes pre-filled with naloxone and provides instructions for anyone to inject it into the thigh of someone who is overdosing.

The nasal spray, known by the brand name Narcan, does not require any assembly and is sprayed into one nostril of someone who has overdosed. Narcan is made by Adapt Pharma.

Naloxone should not be confused with suboxone, which is a drug used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use or addiction.

How much does naloxone cost?

The rising price of naloxone has become a major problem as tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses each year. However, most insurance plans cover naloxone, and many community-based organizations or public health programs provide the drug for free.

When buying naloxone, the price can vary greatly depending on your insurance plan and the type you want to buy. Generic naloxone can cost between $20 and $40 per dose, while Narcan can cost around $130 to $140 for a kit that includes two doses.

Who can buy naloxone?

Naloxone is a prescription drug, but in most states, people who are at risk for overdosing or know someone who is, can get naloxone without a prescription, or by “standing order,” according to the surgeon general.

All 50 states have passed laws to expand access to naloxone, and most states have Good Samaritan laws to protect people who give someone naloxone during an opioid overdose emergency. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers an Opioid Overdose Toolkit, and other government websites offer more information about naloxone’s side effects and access.

Where can you get naloxone for free?

Many local public health organizations or community groups dedicated to treating drug addiction offer naloxone free of charge. There are also programs that provide discounts for some brands of the medication, and if your insurance covers naloxone, the co-pay at your local pharmacy could be as low as $0.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers resources for where to find naloxone, including this naloxone finder, that allows people to enter their city or zip code and find overdose prevention programs that may offer the drug for free.

CVS said Thursday it would offer a coupon for Narcan to patients without insurance and Walgreens said it also supported the surgeon general’s advisory.

Write to Abigail Abrams at abigail.abrams@time.com.

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