Explainers Harm Reduction

Policies to Improve Naloxone Access


Stacey McKenna
Resident Senior Fellow, Integrated Harm Reduction

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Naloxone Background

The opioid antagonist naloxone has been U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for overdose reversal since 1971 and available through community-based organizations such as syringe service programs (SSPs) since the 1990s. In recent years, as opioid-involved overdoses have skyrocketed across the United States, the life-saving medication has become an essential part of the harm reductionist’s toolkit, and it is more widespread than ever before. Naloxone saves tens of thousands of lives across the United States each year (perhaps hundreds of thousands), and an estimated 16.95 million doses were dispensed in 2021.

How much naloxone is needed?

To truly curb overdoses, research indicates that communities must reach saturation, defined as sufficient naloxone availability to reverse 80 percent of witnessed overdoses. In response, states have enacted naloxone access laws to allow people to purchase the drug at pharmacies without a prescription. However, few communities have achieved saturation.

These issues affect both access to naloxone and uptake of the medication by people who use drugs, as well as their friends and family members. While policy alone cannot solve all of the above problems, it can reduce some barriers to help communities achieve greater saturation.

Read the rest of the report here.