A life-saving opioid antidote — Naloxone — has been approved for distribution over the counter since April of this year, but not a single pharmacy in Humboldt County is currently offering this option.
Naloxone is available as an injection or nasal spray. Also known as Narcan, it can save the life of a person who has stopped breathing and whose heart has slowed due to an overdose of opioids, such as heroin or prescription pain medications. Assembly Bill 35
, passed in 2014, permits pharmacies to offer the drug without a prescription. It was strongly supported by health and drug organizations as well as parent's groups. The bill came in response to a growing national trend of overdoses. Drug and alcohol related deaths made up twenty percent of all deaths in Humboldt County over the last three years. Fifty-three percent of local drug-related deaths
between 2009 and 2013 were due to overdoses.
According to the California Board of Pharmacy, pharmacists must receive an hour of training before they can offer Naloxone over the counter. None of the pharmacies we called — Lima's, Cloney's, Barnes, Walgreens or CVS — have trained their pharmacists on Naloxone distribution.
"I think what’s needed is a protocol," said John Backus of Red Cross Cloney's Pharmacy. "We don’t have a protocol through a doctor’s office yet. For right now, we only distribute Naloxone on a prescription basis."
Elsewhere, Naloxone has been included in harm reduction kits for active substance users along with clean needles and wound care supplies, but for the time being access for harm reduction advocates will be limited.
, founder of the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction, attributed the problem to a moral judgement on the part of pharmacies, saying it mirrors the debate over whether syringe exchange was "enabling" addicts.
"Being as we have so many substance users, we should have better access," said Wilson, adding that her group is working on getting a standing order established through a doctor at a local pharmacy. "There's the law, but it's really just a mythical concept. The policy says one thing but getting people to act on those are another another thing. It’s definitely a weird trudge."