Deaths from prescription opioid overdose have nearly quadrupled since 1999, and in 2014 alone, claimed the lives of over 47,000 Americans; deaths from heroin, an illegal but particularly addictive opioid, have more than tripled just within the last six years.
Prescription opioids include drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the United States is in the midst of a prescription opioid overdose epidemic.
At the urging of healthcare providers, medical societies, concerned families and law enforcement, state legislators have begun taking measures to put a powerful weapon against opioid overdose into the hands of the public: Naloxone.
Naloxone is an opiate antidote and when delivered in a timely manner, can temporarily block the effects of opioids, especially in the event of an overdose. Many emergency and first responders already keep the drug on hand and utilize it in the event of an overdose situation.
Since opioid overdoses have become such a grave public health concern, more and more states have passed legislation making Naloxone more accessible.
Most recently, North Carolina passed legislation authorizing pharmacies across the state to dispense the medication without a prescription. Opioid overdose in the state has reached epidemic proportions and is considered a public health crisis.
Currently, more than 1,000 people die each year from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses in North Carolina and one out of four autopsies performed by state medical examiners are on those whose deaths are from drug overdose.
According to The Network for Public Health Law – by June, 2016, all but three states, (KS, MT and WY), had passed legislation to improve layperson access to Naloxone. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently began requiring manufacturers of long-acting and extended-release opioid formulations to conduct post-marketing research on their safety.
Many of these laws allow pharmacists to dispense Naloxone to not only patients at risk of an overdose but also to an at-risk person’s friends, family or other person, now without a prescription.
Some of the laws regarding the use of Naloxone also address issues related to immunity and Good Samaritan laws. These laws may provide immunity for both professionals and nonprofessionals related to the prescribing, dispensing and administration of Naloxone to a person suffering from an overdose.
With the rise in prescription opioid overdoses and deaths, many medical schools across the country are now starting to require further training and education on the topic.
In May, 2016, an FDA advisory panel announced that physician training on the risks of prescription opioids should be mandatory and should include education on immediate-release (IR), extended-release (ER) and long-acting (LA) formulations.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its 2016 guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain that includes recommendations for primary care providers.
 Rudd, R.A., Aleshire, N., Zibbell, J.E., Gladden, M. Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 64, 1-5. 2015.
 North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.ncdhhs.gov/news/press-releases/governor-mccrory-signs-life-saving-overdose-prevention-legislation. June, 2016.