A new state law lets pharmacists write prescriptions for an overdose antidote called Narcan, or naloxone. Since the law took effect last fall, just five percent of pharmacists in the state have started prescribing the antidote.
At Hancock Pharmacy in New Haven, Jacqui Murphy pulled a box of Narcan Nasal Spray off the shelf. She’s one of the first pharmacists in the state to complete a course that allows her to prescribe this drug to people who haven’t seen a doctor first.
“You can see the box is very small,” Murphy said. “There’s two in the box, and you just put it in the patient’s nose and push the button.”
Murphy tapped the bottom of the white plastic device that’s no bigger than a matchbook.
““[The antidote] will squirt into the nostril and in two to five minutes the patient will start coming back to life.”
Murphy said the insurance companies she works with cover the cost of the drug -- just not always the full $140.
“I can usually talk to the drug manufacturer about getting a coupon or discount until I get the cost down to zero for the customer,” Murphy said.
Murphy can now prescribe this antidote to a friend or loved one of someone who is using prescription opioids or heroin. In Connecticut last year, 723 people overdosed on opioids and 444 of those overdoses were fatal -- double the number in 2012. Now, more pharmacists in the state say they want to do something to prevent more people from dying of opioid overdoses.
“Many of the independent pharmacists, such as myself, have taken the course and are currently dispensing,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s pharmacy is one of just 41 pharmacies in Connecticut that offer naloxone prescriptions, according to the latest list from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
So why haven’t the other 95 percent of pharmacists started prescribing?
Jill Fitzgerald is director of Professional Development at the University of Connecticut. She also oversees the state’s program to train pharmacists to prescribe naloxone and says independent pharmacies can adapt quickly to the change in regulation.
“Pharmacists within certain practice sites might be holding back waiting for their employer to make decisions about policies and things like that,” Fitzgerald said.
The training consists of an online tutorial and quiz that takes about two hours and costs $50.
“It explains everything from how the drug works to what three prescription options there are to administer the drug, and there are videos to show people how to use them. Most importantly, there is also information about resources for addiction counseling and rehab,” Fitzgerald said.
The training program is designed to be quick and convenient. Still, national chain pharmacies have not participated in the state training.
“All of the chain pharmacies are working to get their training together and to increase the number of pharmacists,” Fitzgerald said.
Walgreens plans to offer naloxone to people without a doctor’s visit in 35 states by the end of the year. That includes about 90 stores in Connecticut. Spokesman Phil Caruso said that takes time.
“There is no umbrella law that covers all 50 states. Each state has their own approach. Some states have prescriptive authority, like Connecticut. Some states require other protocols to be put in place,” Caruso said. “It’s just a matter of working through what each state requires and then a matter of implementing that process."
The Department of Consumer Protection says it recently approved a corporate naloxone training program for national chains like Walgreens and Rite Aid.
Rite Aid and CVS say they also plan to train pharmacists in the state by the end of the year. Once those chains train their pharmacists, prescription-free naloxone will be available at nearly 400 stores in Connecticut. That’s 10 times the number of pharmacies that participate now.
This post originally stated that more than 700 people died of opioid overdoses in Connecticut last year. It has been updated to reflect that there were 723 opioid overdoses in Connecticut last year, but 444 were fatal.