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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Overdose Deaths Up, Experts Say ‘Co-Prescribing’ Could Help

Naloxone hydrochloride, also known as Narcan, is an overdose antidote that many states have made available to first-responders.
Naloxone hydrochloride, also known as Narcan, is an overdose antidote that many states have made available to first-responders.

Overdose deaths are significantly rising in many states including West Virginia, but some are now adopting new laws that require those with opioid addictions to receive a reversal agent like Narcan alongside their pain medication prescription. This tactic would serve as a way to help save lives, should a patient overdose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Thursday showing a 10 percent rise in fatal overdoses in the first three months of this year compared to last. West Virginia saw 67 more deaths by March compared to 2019, and according to the CDC, this data is underreported.

The American Medical Association has released similar reports linking the fatal overdose increases to the pandemic, as more people are alone and depression and anxiety are on the rise — factors that can inhibit recovery.

Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal agent, has been proven to slow the rates of overdose deaths. Starting in 2017 with Virginia and Vermont, 10 states have “required co-prescribing rules,” including New Jersey most recently.

“Opioids continue to be prescribed to patients for chronic pain,” said Ben Atkins, director of communications for Opiant Pharmaceuticals, the company that developed Narcan -- a Naloxone nasal spray. “And what co-prescribing means is that when a prescription is given to a patient for an opioid, you also co-prescribe a reversal agent.”

A co-prescription of Naloxone is considered a preventative measure, in the case the patient were to overdose. Atkins said one in three patients prescribed an opiate are at risk of developing an addiction.

“It's not just the access to the medication itself,” he said. “It's all sort of touchpoints between the doctor and the patient to talk about the potential risks of an opioid medication.”

West Virginia has legislation supporting co-prescribing, but not requiring it. However, lawmakers have discussed introducing legislation in the near future.

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