Walgreens to sell heroin overdose antidote without prescription

By: Kathleen Troher, Public Affairs and Marketing Manager

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Customers will be able to buy a life-saving heroin overdose antidote at Walgreens stores in Illinois before the end of the year.

Company officials recently announced that naloxone will be available without a prescription at Walgreens stores in Washington, D.C., and 35 states, including Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Naloxone, which can be administered by injection or nasal spray, can reverse the fatal effects of overdosing on heroin and other opioids.

With heroin addiction climbing, health care professionals are applauding the initiative as an important step in fighting the epidemic.

“With naloxone in cars, homes and public spaces anyone can be that superhero giving a person with a deadly medical illness the chance to live productively and reach for their dreams,” says Dr. Adam Rubinstein, an internal medicine and addiction medicine physician at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, IL, and physician adviser to the Lake County Opioid Initiative at Live4Lali.

Live4Lali is a donor-funded organization in Illinois that raises awareness of substance abuse issues. It was instrumental in the passage of Lali’s Law, which allows pharmacists to prescribe an anti-overdose drug to family members of those at risk of overdosing on heroin or other opiates. The law was named in remembrance of a Buffalo Grove, IL, resident who died in December 2008 from an overdose involving heroin and other drugs.

Dr. Rubinstein is glad that Illinois is taking steps in the right direction.

“Lake County Opioid Initiative and Live4Lali applaud Walgreens for their lightning-fast response to this opioid epidemic, which spares no demographic,” Dr. Rubinstein says. “Lali’s Law will save thousands of lives across Illinois; Walgreens is sure to save tens of thousands across America.”

Walgreens is the first pharmacy chain in Illinois to offer naloxone without a prescription. Most people know naloxone by its trade name, Narcan.

When a person takes heroin it binds to receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body, affecting the central nervous system, slowing heart rate and suppressing breathing. Naloxone reverses those fatal consequences by “kicking the heroin off the receptors,” Dr. Rubinstein says.

Walgreens is rolling out the program state-by-state throughout the year. Naloxone became available without a prescription earlier this month at Walgreens pharmacies throughout New York state and will be introduced without a prescription in Indiana and Ohio before March.

When implementation is complete, naloxone will be available without a prescription in more than 5,800 of the nearly 8,200 stores in the Walgreens system.