Updated: 3:40 p.m. | Posted: 9:39 a.m.
State health commissioner Ed Ehlinger has an urgent message for Minnesotans: get the anti-overdose drug Narcan and learn how to use it.
Opioid overdoses kill more people in Minnesota than traffic deaths, according to Ehlinger, and he said now is the time to take precautions. State health officials are urging people to consider stocking up on the medication that reverses an opioid overdose just in case.
"You can go into a pharmacy, whether you're an individual who has that problem, or a loved one, or somebody that just cares about your community, have that available, so that when somebody goes down, you can know how to give the Narcan to reverse that overdose," Ehlinger said Friday.
Over-the-counter purchase of the drug has been legal since January. Narcan, also known as naloxone, is available in injectable or inhalable form.
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However, Ehlinger says Narcan is just the first step. "We know this is a life-saving drug if it gets into people at the right time," he said. "That doesn't mean that that cures the disease, it doesn't cure someone from being addicted. So they need some more care. But it will save the life so that they can get into care."
There are caveats of course. Administering the drug requires at least a minimal amount of preparation, and pharmacists will insist on training buyers on its use. Basic training is available online, too.
In addition, insurers may not pay for the drug — and it isn't cheap.
The injectable form costs $45 and the nasal spray is $110 at CVS, according to Jennifer Bodmer, a pharmicist and supervisor for CVS in the Twin Cities.
The spray form includes two units, she said, in case a single dose isn't sufficient. Bodmer said CVS is now offering the drug in 41 states.
Pharmacies in Minnesota are showing interest in stocking the drug.
Kate Erickson, a planner with the state health department, said chains like Walgreens and CVS often carry it, but there's no guarantee every branch has the drug.
"What we're encouraging the general public to do is to go to their preferred pharmacy and ask them to adopt the protocol," if they don't already carry Narcan. Erickson said. "We need the public support to get the word out."