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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Sound Health: FDA's Narcan over-the-counter approval 'removes barriers'

FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), Dec. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved selling overdose antidote naloxone over-the-counter, Wednesday, March 29, 2023, marking the first time a opioid treatment drug will be available without a prescription.
Matt Rourke
Chestnut Health Systems has distributed more than 3,400 boxes of Narcan throughout its 11-county service area in central Illinois since January.

The opioid overdose drug Narcan has been hailed as a miracle medication. That's because it can rapidly reverse symptoms from an overdose.

Narcan, or its generic name naloxone, has been around for decades, being used by emergency room staff and paramedics since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971 as an injectable overdose reversal treatment.

Bryan Hinman
Bryan Hinman with Chestnut Health Systems.

The nasal spray now associated with Narcan was introduced in 2015, and is now the most common form of the drug. The medication will soon be available more widely as the Food and Drug Administration has approved its sale over the counter.

“The more barriers we can remove from Narcan access, the better,” said Bryan Hinman, associate director of court treatment programs at Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington, currently one of a select few places in McLean County where you can get Narcan.

In this edition of Sound Health, Hinman explains how overdose rates have been rising in the United States for decades, and according to Hinman, the first step to reduce the number of deaths is to reduce the stigma around opioid addiction.
“I think creating a space where people can talk about it, broadening awareness, that can really help get people to come seek help. Not feel that they have to hide," Hinman said.

Hinman acknowledges that some detractors suggest that increased access will remove the fear of an overdose, but he says “as far as Narcan itself, I can’t really speak to how that would cause more overdoses, but I can say is that having more access to Naloxone can give more ability to reverse an overdose.”

There is almost no downside to Narcan being more widely available, it doesn’t cause allergic reactions and it cannot cause an overdose, Hinman said. He recommends regular Narcan training, akin to a fire or tornado drill, but said administering the drug is “just like Flonase” and since there aren’t negative side effects, he maintains that access is the key to saving lives.

“I’ve even had instances with clients that were trained to use Narcan, and they had someone else at their house and they overdosed and they used it to help them.”

Hinman believes with the right training, access to resources, and reduction of stigma, lives can be saved. Narcan is expected to be readily available by the end of summer. It is presently unclear where it will be available and how much it will cost per dosage.

Chestnut has distributed more than 3,400 boxes of Narcan throughout its 11-county service area in central Illinois since January. Hinman said he continues to see high rates of drug addiction tied to meth, often laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Chestnut offers free Narcan and training at SR-NARCAN@chestnut.org or (618) 512-1781.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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