Currently hundreds of pharmacies across Massachusetts carry something known as a Naloxone Rescue Kit. At many locations these can be obtained without a prescription due to something known as a “standing order.” The pharmacy that I personally manage has these kits available for any patients who request one. They save lives, as attested to by many news stories like the one a few days ago about a New York City police officer who used the kit to revive an otherwise unresponsive individual after a drug overdose. But in spite of various attempts at advertising, these kits remain largely mysterious to the general public, and sadly underutilized.
What, exactly, is a Naloxone Rescue Kit?
Naloxone is a drug which, when administered, will immediately reverse the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose on the respiratory system. To put it simply, naloxone will allow the unconscious patient to start breathing again. Historically available only as an injection, naloxone can now be sold as a “kit” with an adapter that allows the medicine to be squirted into the nostrils of the unconscious patient by anyone who has a a kit and knows how to use it.
In Massachusetts the kit is typically dispensed as 2 syringes and 2 nasal adapters, along with a pamphlet describing how to safely administer the medication in an emergency. The kit is also available in an injectable form. A pharmacist will provide training on when and how to use the kit appropriately.
Who should purchase the kit?
You should purchase a kit if someone you know or love might experience a drug overdose. In an overdose situation where the person is unconscious, there is usually a very small window of time available to save their life. Waiting for emergency personnel to arrive is often too late.
Some patients might be concerned or embarrassed about asking their doctor or pharmacist about these rescue kits. This shouldn’t be the case, as health care professionals appreciate your concern to be prepared and informed about how to help out in such emergencies.
Where to purchase a kit
A Naloxone Rescue Kit may be purchased at any pharmacy that stocks them as long as the patient has a valid prescription. However, many pharmacies in Massachusetts can dispense them to any person, even without a prescription, on the basis of a standing order. A “standing order” is simply an arrangement that the pharmacy has made with a physician which allows a pharmacist to dispense these kits based upon a patient request. A list of such pharmacies in Massachusetts is available online.
What does a kit cost?
The kit will be billed, like any other prescription drug, to the patient’s insurance plan. Some health plans, like MassHealth for example, completely cover the cost of these kits. Other plans may require the patient pay a copay, which will vary by your plan. While there is no way to know for sure what the kit would cost you beforehand, any pharmacy which carries these kits can run a claim and check the price for a patient.
How should the kit be used?
While detailed directions will come with the kit, patients should know that administering naloxone (particularly the nasal spray) is relatively simple. After determining a patient has experienced an overdose, calling 911 and attempting rescue breaths (CPR), the naloxone can be sprayed into each nostril.
Efforts to make these kits more available should be encouraged and appropriate patients should consider the benefits of having them if necessary. While such kits will not fix our opioid and heroin addiction problem, they do provide the average patient the opportunity to give life-saving help to those who desperately need it.