The leading Southern California supermarket, Ralphs, has received glowing accolades for being the first chain grocery in California to sell the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone, in their pharmacies without a prescription. All of its store locations in Southern California will soon make the lifesaving drug available to friends and family members of people at risk of an opiate overdose.
Ralphs announced last week that it would become the first grocery store chain to carry naloxone in its Southern California pharmacies, stating that it was “empowering pharmacists to put this overdose rescue medicine in the hands of those who are in a position to help an opioid overdose victim.”
Overdoses on painkillers such as OxyContin or Opana killed about 18,000 Americans in 2013, and another 8,000 died after overdosing on heroin, a five-fold increase from 2001.
Naloxone works by blocking opioid receptors in the cells of the human body, preventing them from responding to the drug. It can be injected or sprayed up the nose, and can stop an overdose in under two minutes. The World Health Organization placed the drug on its list of essential medications in 1983.
The Drug Policy Alliance applauded Ralphs as the store’s participation has been a direct result of Assembly member Richard Bloom’s AB 1535, co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and the California Pharmacists Association. The bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to see Ralphs expanding access to naloxone throughout Southern California,” said Laura Thomas, California deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “They worked hard to quickly make naloxone access a reality for thousands of families.”
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s long-awaited report on overdose prevention programs providing naloxone to laypersons surveyed 136 naloxone distribution programs nationwide. The report rendered three important highlights:
1.In just the past four years, the number of organizations that distributed naloxone more than doubled.
2.Overwhelmingly common successful overdose reversals were carried out by people who actively used drugs and their loved ones.
3.Most naloxone overdose reversals involved heroin: heroin was involved in 81.6 percent of reported reversals, while prescription opioids were involved in 14.1 percent.
Amid the rising opioid overdose deaths across the U.S., many states have taken action to expand access to naloxone. Several states are training and equipping first responders and other law enforcement officers to save lives in time. Others have passed laws protecting responders from criminal prosecution or civil liability.
The graph below depicts the increasing availability of naloxone across the states.
The proposals have met some opposition, as many argue that making naloxone more accessible makes opioid abuse more acceptable. Some critics claimed that it would encourage risky drug use by providing users a way to “fix” an overdose. Still, naloxone advocates like Thomas say opposition to naloxone access has begun to disperse over the last few years. Even politicians not known for their progressive views on drug policy are accepting.
This September, CVS stepped up as the first major pharmacy chain in California to make naloxone available without a prescription. CVS also expanded nonprescription naloxone access in more than 12 other states.
Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health treatment provider devoted to the treatment of addiction and mental illnesses. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with an opioid addiction, call one of our representatives right away through our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer