First responders often carry naloxone kits as an antidote to opioid overdoes. On Thursday, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams advised more people have the drug on hand. Photo by James Heilman, MD/Wikimedia Commons
April 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. surgeon general issued a rare advisory Thursday, urging more Americans to carry naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote.
Dr. Jerome Adams, who is the nation's chief doctor, said in a release he hopes more opioid users, as well as their friends and family members, will keep Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, nearby at all times.
In an advisory on the surgeon general website, Adams said he is "emphasizing the importance of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone."
"For patients currently taking high doses of opioids as prescribed for pain, individuals misusing prescription opioids, individuals using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, health care practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life," Adams said in the statement.
The website offers information on the roles of people in fighting the opioid epidemic and preventing the deaths it is causing.
"Each day we lose 115 Americans to an opioid overdose -- that's one person every 12.5 minutes," Adams said in a statement. "It is time to make sure more people have access to this lifesaving medication, because 77 percent of opioid overdose deaths occur outside of a medical setting and more than half occur at home."
In all, more than 42,000 Americans suffered fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, compared to 21,000 in 2010. And an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States deal with opioid use disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month reported opioid overdose visits to emergency departments increased 30 percent throughout the United States.
Opioid overdoes are such a problem that it was the first surgeon general advisory in 13 years. The last was in 2005 and dealt with alcohol use during pregnancy.
Although the drug is available to first responders, Adams said individuals should keep it on hand.
In most states, naloxone is available over the counter, and HHS calls the drug "easy to use, safe to administer and widely available."
The drug, which costs around $100 and is available in nasal mist or injection, is covered by most insurance plans and it may be available at low or no cost through local public health programs or through retailer and manufacturer discounts.
"To manage opioid addiction and prevent future overdoses, increased naloxone availability must occur in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder," Adams said.
The surgeon general said naloxone is a key part of the public health response to the opioid crisis, along with effective prevention, treatment and recovery programs.
A combination of medication, counseling and behavioral therapy, also known as Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, helps reduce the problem, the surgeon general said.
Opioids, which are commonly prescribed to treat pain, include oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. The pharmaceutical fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. But the surgeon general noted fentanyl-related overdoses often are a result of illicitly made fentanyl.
Adams, who was Indiana's health commissioner until being appointed surgeon general by President Donald Trump, said he plans frequent talks about the advisory.
That includes a speech Thursday at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta.