STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
As you may have heard, the United States surgeon general issued an advisory recently. More people, he says, should carry naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. Every state and the District of Columbia now have laws to increase access to this lifesaving drug. But it can be hard to get it to people who need it most. Jake Harper with Side Effects Public Media reports.
JAKE HARPER, BYLINE: About four months ago, Kourtnaye Sturgeon was driving in Indianapolis.
KOURTNAYE STURGEON: And I saw ahead of me a car had veered off to the curb.
HARPER: Some had people surrounded the car. Inside, the driver and passenger were still. She asked if she could help.
STURGEON: And the guy walked over to me, and he said, no, ma'am. It's an overdose - heroin. They're dead.
HARPER: But they weren't dead. And Sturgeon works for Overdose Lifeline, a nonprofit that distributes naloxone and trains people how to use it. She had a dose with her. She sprayed it up the driver's nose and waited for the paramedics.
STURGEON: And as they were walking towards us, the driver started slowly moving.
HARPER: Both people survived. Surgeon General Jerome Adams wants more people to carry naloxone so they can act before first responders arrive. That can include people who use drugs or their friends and family. But it can be hard to get. Naloxone is a prescription drug. Normally, a doctor or nurse would have to prescribe it. Corey Davis is an attorney with the National Health Law Program. He says that's a problem.
COREY DAVIS: A lot of people who are at risk of overdose either don't have contact with a medical provider or they're afraid because of stigma or other reasons.
HARPER: Many people don't want to admit that they use drugs. So Davis says states have passed laws to get around that. One type of law allows something called third-party prescribing. Providers can give a prescription to friends or relatives of someone at risk of an overdose. Davis says another type of law allows a kind of prescription called a standing order.
DAVIS: But instead of having a person's name on it, it has a group of people.
HARPER: That group could be anyone who, for example, takes opioid painkillers or suffers from addiction or, Davis says...
DAVIS: ...Anybody who might be in a position to assist someone which, you know, unfortunately, today, means essentially everybody.
HARPER: In fact, Davis says about half of states, including Indiana, have statewide standing orders. About half of the pharmacies here participate. But if you want naloxone and you know about these rules and you're not embarrassed to ask for it at the pharmacy counter, there's still the cost.
I was just wondering if you guys carry it and, if so, like, how much it costs.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We do carry it.
HARPER: Ninety-five dollars for two doses of Narcan at a drugstore in Indianapolis - that's with a discount. Across the street - $80 for two doses of the generic. Even with insurance, copays can vary. Brad Ray's a researcher at Indiana University.
BRAD RAY: People that are users are scraping together just enough money to buy drugs. I mean, they're not preparing to buy naloxone with that money.
HARPER: Indiana and other states have used federal and state funds to purchase naloxone. But county health departments here distribute most of those free doses to first responders. Corey Davis says the FDA or Congress should make naloxone over-the-counter. It'd make it easier to get and maybe cheaper.
DAVIS: There's nothing to stop them from doing it except that's not generally how things work.
HARPER: But he says if there were ever reason to move a drug over the counter, the opioid epidemic is a good one. For NPR News, I'm Jake Harper in Indianapolis.
(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BRODERICK'S "BROKEN PATTERNS")
INSKEEP: That story is part of a partnership with NPR News, Kaiser Health News and my hometown station, WFYI.
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