Marin County public health officials are asking more pharmacies in the county to make available a drug that reverses the effects of fentanyl and other opioid overdoses.
Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said 20 of the 36 pharmacies in the county furnish the drug naloxone that is available in injectable and nasal spray forms.
Willis said the widespread availability of naloxone, marketed under the brand name Narcan and Evzio, can reverse the rising trend of opioid overdose deaths.
Willis said, "We've been fighting the opioid crisis for several years now, but the trend of fentanyl use among younger people is particularly alarming."
Willis said the ambulances in Marin County respond to three to five opioid overdoses a week.
"The hope always is that the ambulances will arrive in time to revive the person with naloxone. But we can do better. Getting it into the hands of friends and family who may be close by can save lives," Willis said.
Opioid overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Marin County, according to the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.
"If 100 percent of our pharmacies offered naloxone, it would be a big step," Dr. Jeff DeVido, chief of addiction services in the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, said.
"We're working hard to increase the vailability of naloxone, and pharmacies have a vital role to play in getting this life-saving medication into the hands of anyone who might be near someone who is at risk for overdose," DeVido said.
California law allows pharmacists to furnish naloxone without a doctor's prescription directly to customers who request it. Most insurance plans cover the cost, and one need not use opioids themselves to obtain the drug.
The Walgreens and CVS pharmacies show naloxone prices on their web sites that vary between $20 and $40 per dose depending on the buyer's insurance plan, and a Narcan kit with one to two doses that cost $130-$140.
Injectable Narcan is more expensive. A prescription and some training is required for injecting Narcan into muscle. An easier form that does not require a prescription or training is injected into the thigh. The nasal spray also does not require training or a prescription.
The RxSafe Marin coalition founded in 2014 has worked with health care providers, mental health specialists, pharmacists, law enforcement, schools and families to reduce overdose risk by making naloxone more widely available.
DeVido trained police officers in the county on the use of naloxone in 2017. Police officers and fire department paramedics carry the life-saving medication, and since 2017, Marin County officers in the field have saved at least nine people from opioid overdoses.
Some Marin County schools and libraries also have naloxone available, and San Rafael's Marin Treatment Center and The Spahr Center in Corte Madera have furnished naloxone directly to interested individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
"Our ultimate goal is to prevent overdose in the first place by treating addiction. Naloxone can help make sure a temporary problem of drug use doesn't have fatal consequences," DeVido said.
"We welcome the opportunity to work with the rest of our pharmacies to bring us to 100 percent participation," DeVido said.