Local Firefighters See First Over-the-Counter Opioid Overdose Treatment as ‘Big Step' in Fentanyl Fight

Last year, the Cresson Volunteer Fire Department treated upwards of 20 cases related to fentanyl

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A North Texas fire department is praising a move by the FDA to approve an over-the-counter version of an opioid reversal drug.

The FDA approved Wednesday an over-the-counter version of naloxone, currently sold by the drugmaker Emergent BioSolutions under the brand name Narcan. It has been available in the United States only as a prescription drug, but many states have created workarounds that allow people to get it directly from pharmacists. 

Narcan has already been available for purchase in Texas without a prescription, though Cresson Fire Chief Ron Becker said the move Wednesday can further expand accessibility.

“I tell people about what we’re dealing with out here, and I know some people who say ‘Hey, I stopped by the drug store and bought some of this. I carry it in my purse or car,’ or something like that,” Becker said.

The Cresson Volunteer Fire Department has about 55 active firefighters. Many of their trucks are equipped with Narcan, according to Becker. Last year, he said the department ran around 1,000 calls with about 40% being medical emergencies. Of those roughly 400 calls, Becker said about 10 to 20 calls were related to fentanyl.

“A little bit of fentanyl goes a long way. A little bit of fentanyl will kill you,” he said. “We weren’t dealing with this sort of plague two or three years ago. This is all new.”

Becker said for semi-rural areas like Cresson, it is not uncommon for fire services to arrive at a scene before an ambulance.

“It’s very common in the semi-rural areas because there’s just not enough ambulances,” he said.

For this reason, he said it is crucial to be stocked with the opioid overdose reversal drug.

“When we are called on these sort of things, this is truly the type of thing where seconds matter,” he said. “Not all emergencies are that much where seconds matter, but this is one where seconds matter.”

Cresson firefighter David Hendrix recalled responding to a fentanyl-related call just a few months ago.

“A teen had gone down in the parking lot of a Sonic and we administered two doses of Narcan and he woke up,” Hendrix said. “It’s incredible. It is absolutely a miracle drug.”

Becker encourages people to purchase Narcan out of precaution.

“There’s no reason [not to] for anybody who thinks that their loved one or acquaintance is in an age group that might have a chance to be exposed to some of these horrible pills,” he said. “We’re carrying it on lots of firetrucks, lots of our firefighters are carrying in their vehicle for that reason.”

NBC News reports Emergent declined to share details on how much the over-the-counter medication will cost, but the average price of a two-dose box of prescription-only Narcan is around $130, according to GoodRx, which tracks drug prices.

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