Maryland pharmacists will no longer require that people have a prescription to obtain a drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued an order Monday authorizing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to thousands of individuals who have been trained and certified through the state’s Overdose Response Program.
The department said it would fax the directive and guidance materials to every pharmacy in the state.
Naloxone can reverse the effects of overdoses from opioids such as heroin and powerful pain medications, including oxycodone and morphine. “Expanding access to naloxone is an important component of Maryland’s strategy for reducing overdose deaths,” the department said in an announcement.
Nearly 13,000 individuals have been certified to administer naloxone since the Overdose Response Program began in March 2014. The state has authorized 41 organizations to conduct training and certification.
Certificate-holders must pay for the drug, which may be covered by insurance.
The department said it was authorized to issue the order under a Good Samaritan measure that passed this year and was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The law provides immunity to individuals who try to assist overdose victims. It also allows physicians, specialized nurses, dentists and other health-care providers to prescribe naloxone to individuals who they believe might be in a position to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose.
Opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed nationwide in recent years, fueled by addictions to powerful pain medications and a growing use of heroin.
Last year, there were 887 overdose deaths in Maryland, a 76 percent increase from 2010.
Hogan, whose cousin died of a heroin overdose, created a task force this year to develop recommendations for addressing the scourge of opioid addiction and deaths in the state.
The group released its final report earlier this month, calling for expanded access to treatment; increased efforts to disrupt drug trafficking; more emphasis on overdose prevention; a pilot recovery unit for inmates addicted to drugs; and mandatory tracking of prescription data to help identify patients who may be abusing powerful pain medications.
The task force said the state spent $189 million during the past two years combating the heroin and opioid epidemic. The figure did not include Medicaid expenditures.