Dispensing rates for the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone increased by 2,328% after a 2015 Ohio law went into effect that allowed pharmacists to give the drug without a prescription.
A study published Friday in the journal JAMA Open also found an even greater increase in dispensing rates in Ohio counties with low employment and high poverty.
Neil MacKinnon, study co-author and dean of the University of Cincinnati Winkle College of Pharmacy, said the correlation between those counties and naloxone dispensing rates makes sense.
“We know the opioid crisis is often a special challenge in low-employment counties. We also know that some of those are also rural counties where access to a physician or other health care providers can be a challenge,” MacKinnon said. “There are some rural communities in Ohio where really the pharmacist is the only health care provider.”
In July 2015, state lawmakers passed the law allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Many other states also have such a law on the books now, said MacKinnon. The study looked at naloxone dispensing rates in Ohio from 2015-2017, primarily by Ohio residents using Medicaid, to see if there was an association between the law and naloxone orders.
A grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the study. MacKinnon said the Ohio Department of Health has expressed interested in the study’s results.
“Certainly governments implement a lot of policies, [but] sometimes they do not evaluate whether they had the intended effect or not,” he said.
MacKinnon says the increase in naloxone orders could be due to greater education around the drug, and that education has grown in recent years.
“In 2018, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a report, or recommendation, that all Americans carry Narcan on them,” MacKinnon said.
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone.
“When you have the Surgeon General saying this is a good drug that people should be using, and have just in case of emergency, then for sure it shows the widespread educational efforts that have been made,” MacKinnon said.
Naloxone is used when a person overdoses on opioids, and can often prevent the person from dying.