In order to reduce the risk of overdose death, health care providers should strongly consider prescribing the opioid antidote naloxone to patients at high risk of opioid overdose, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended in new guidance released this week.
“Because this ongoing crisis and the continued deaths from opioids (prescription opioids, heroin, and illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl), we must continue an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to prevent opioid misuse and treat those with opioid use disorder, to decrease the deadly effects of addition until sustained recovery is achieved,” HHS said in a statement. “One such intervention that can reduce overdose deaths is naloxone, a drug antagonist that reverses the effects of opioids and can be life-saving when an opioid overdose occurs.”
The nation’s opioid epidemic is deadly. More than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, 47,600 of which were opioid related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Naloxone can help reduce this number, HHS said, but only if it is in the right hands at the right time. “Healthcare providers have a critical role in assuring this occurs across all populations at risk.”
HHS is recommending that health care providers consider prescribing naloxone and provide education about its use for the following patients:
- Patients prescribed opioids at high dosages, who have respiratory conditions like COPD or sleep apnea, have been prescribed benzodiazepines, or have a non-opioid substance use disorder like alcoholism or mental health disorder.
- Patients at risk for experiencing or responding to an opioid overdose including those who use heroin, illicit synthetic opioids or misuse prescription opioids; use other illicit drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine; receive treatment for opioid use disorder; and those with a history of opioid misuse who were recently released from incarceration or other controlled settings where tolerance to opioids has been lost.
Naloxone products are available in nasal spray, injection or auto-injection, and most health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare plans, will cover at least one form of the drug. There are also several programs at the state or local level may supply free or low-cost naloxone to those at risk of opioid overdose without insurance coverage, HHS said.
Source: Health and Human Services