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More Americans Should Carry Drug That Reverses Opioid Overdoses, Surgeon General Says in Rare Advisory

In a rare move, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has issued a public health advisory urging more Americans to carry the opioid-overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Many first responders and medical professionals already carry naloxone, which is often sold under the brand name Narcan and can be administered as a nasal spray or an injection after a drug overdose. If more people kept naloxone on hand, Surgeon General Adams says, it could help curtail the steadily rising number of fatal opioid overdoses reported each year.


Surgeon General Jerome Adams Testifies To Senate Health Committee
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

“For patients currently taking high doses of opioids as prescribed for pain, individuals misusing prescription opioids, individuals using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, health care practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life,” Adams writes in the advisory.

Public health advisories are a rarely used tool reserved for issues of pressing importance to the American public. Before Thursday’s naloxone advisory, one had not been issued since 2005, when then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona warned women about the potential effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The breadth and severity of the opioid crisis necessitated Thursday’s advisory, which also includes information about naloxone and the signs of an overdose, Adams said in a statement. The surgeon general also has a family history of addiction himself.

“Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose – that’s one person every 12.5 minutes,” Adams said in the statement. “It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home.”

In many states, Narcan can be purchased over the counter from retailers including CVS and Walgreens. (A prescription is still required in some areas.) Every state in the country has passed laws that expand access to the temporary overdose antidote, according to the surgeon general’s statement.

Adams’ advisory comes just a day after the National Institutes of Health announced a new, wide-ranging initiative to increase research efforts around opioid addiction and substance abuse prevention.