The administration of Gov. Chris Christie this week announced it would expand access to Narcan, also known as naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses opioid overdoses.
Christie on Tuesday announced that New Jersey pharmacies without medical directors can now apply for a standing order to dispense the so-called heroin antidote Narcan without a prescription.
The Pharmacy Practice Act, amended in June by Christie as part of his administration’s daily focus on the state’s addiction crisis, allows pharmacies without medical directors to get a standing order from the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) to dispense the antidote. Ocean County has been called “ground zero” for the heroin crisis.
“This law is just one important tool in our comprehensive strategy in combating the disease of addiction,” said Governor Christie. “Narcan is critical to our efforts to save lives and now we are making it easier for more pharmacists to help.”
Last week, the opioid epidemic was declared a national public health emergency by President Donald Trump.
Since April 2014, police, EMTs, and paramedics have administered Narcan more than 32,000 times, including 9,500 overdose reversals this year alone. The program was first piloted in Ocean County. In addition, thousands more reversals have been done in hospital emergency rooms.
The original law did not provide a mechanism for DOH to issue a standing order and allowed only pharmacists with medical directors to dispense Narcan, generically known as naloxone. Hundreds of pharmacies throughout the state do not have medical directors on staff, having made them ineligible to dispense the medication to family members and friends of addicts so they could have the drug on hand in case of an emergency.
DOH has finalized the standing order process and is now accepting requests from licensed pharmacists in good standing with the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy (BOP). Requests should be emailed to email@example.com.
The standing order allows pharmacists to dispense the antidote to someone at risk of an overdose or to an individual who obtains the antidote to administer it to a loved one or someone in an emergency, regardless of whether they have a prescription for the the drug. The standing order requires the pharmacists to provide information about recognition and prevention as well as information about dosage, resuscitation, and aftercare.
Narcan is administered, often through a nasal ingestion but sometimes through injection, throughout the state by police, EMTs, and paramedics and is dispensed to families through programs funded by the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, now located in the DOH.
Christie’s administration also has expanded Recovery Coach and Patient Navigator programs that pair people whose overdose was reversed in a hospital with peers that can guide them through the steps of recovery.
“We have to look at every overdose reversal as an opportunity to get people into treatment,” Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett said. “The administration of Narcan may return someone from near death, but we know sustained recovery requires more than just an antidote.”