Explainers Harm Reduction

Why Naloxone Access Policy Should Prioritize People Who Use Drugs


Stacey McKenna
Resident Senior Fellow, Integrated Harm Reduction

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In 2022, more than 100,000 people died of a drug overdose—a crisis that was largely driven by highly potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Naloxone, a safe and effective opioid overdose reversal agent, is one of many essential tools in preventing overdose deaths, but only if it is put into the right hands. Public health experts consider the goal of community saturation—defined as having sufficient community-based naloxone kits to reverse 80 percent of witnessed overdoses—to be both desirable and attainable.

As a society, we have begun to embrace a variety of efforts to make the medication more available. For example, a growing proportion of the general public now carry doses with them, and the drug is increasingly showing up beside defibrillators and EpiPens as part of emergency response kits in public spaces like schools, bars and gas stations. These steps certainly represent positive progress in improving access to naloxone and reducing the risks associated with today’s toxic illicit drug supply. However, too many communities in the United States still struggle to achieve the desired level of saturation.

This is, in part, because reaching community saturation with naloxone will require a targeted expansion of access. To maximize its life-saving potential, experts argue, the medication must reach the people for whom it will have the biggest impact: individuals who are at risk of experiencing an overdose—including people who take high-dose prescription opioids and those who use drugs purchased on the illicit market—as well as their friends and family. Here’s why.

Read the explainer, “Why Naloxone Access Policy Should Prioritize People Who Use Drugs.”

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