Acme pharmacies in NJ join fight against opioid epidemic with Narcan sales
As the opioid epidemic continues to be a growing problem across the country, and especially certain parts of New Jersey, Acme markets announced that they will join a growing list of companies to offer the overdose treatment naloxone, also known as Narcan, at their pharmacies across the state.
According to NJ.com, that means close to 60 stores in New Jersey will soon offer the treatment in addition to stores already stocking the drug on their shelves in Pennsylvania. While there are some differences in how the medication is prescribed in the two states, Jennifer McAleer, a pharmacy manager at an Acme in Philadelphia said they have seen the drug's importance in care since they started selling it a year ago.
McAleer said in New Jersey prescriptions for the medication can only be made out to a person who would be helping an overdose victim. The out of pocket cost is $155.
While in Pennsylvania prescriptions can be written for the potential overdose patients themselves, Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni said it is the person helping the victim that matters when time is of the essence.
"While we've instituted a lot of progressive things to arm all of our police officers with the lifesaving Narcan, the truth is we don't have cops on every corner of the street," he said. "When there's a call for service they obviously get there as fast as they can but nothing can substitute somebody who might have a kid in the household who sees a loved one that might be experiencing an overdose, so those minutes are precious in terms of trying to save lives."
The prosecutor said it was "heartening," that Acme had joined other pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS in selling the drug to help reduce the number of overdose deaths that have seen a spike in recent years.
With officers around the county having the drug on hand and now additional places where people can buy the treatment, Gramiccioni said these are all things which can help people in need.
"We have pretty good coverage, but you never know about the ones that might not be encouraged to make a call maybe for some reason or another," he said.
Even still, having someone on hand who can provide immediate treatment, he said can make the difference between a person surviving the overdose or becoming another statistic in the epidemic.
McAleer agreed, calling the sale of the drug "an extra tool." She added, "It's access to the community to get it, particularly people worried about a loved one. Maybe a parent worried about their child to have it in the house in case something happens."
While having it ready in the house is important, she said that is not the only thing these patients and families should know about it.
"What people need to know is even if they have this product, the person that receives the product still needs emergency care," she said. "If you have to use the product because of an opioid overdose you still need to call 911."
Gramiccioni also said that while they have seen impressive results since launching their Naloxone program in 2014, they have also seen several overdose patients on more than one occasion who have needed the treatment. Since June of 2014 he said there have been 835 "naloxone deployments." Of that total 61 were sprayed twice, 11 people were sprayed on three different occasions, and five were treated four times.
"The Naloxone program has been largely successful," he said. And while the drug has proven to be beneficial, he said it has also led to some troubling consequences as well. "The ugly underbelly with some of this is that they take it as license that this is some kind of immunity and it's really really not," he said.
Although some drug users might think that the treatment can save them from most any overdose, the prosecutor said "that's not always going to be the case."
One particular area of concern for Gramiccioni is the fact that there are other drugs gaining in popularity like fentanyl for which Naloxone is of no help.
"When we look at our intelligence predictions through federal and state and local law enforcement, we're looking at this as over time, fentanyl will probably phase out the illegal heroin because it's much cheaper and a much greater high so there will be a better market for it, unfortunately."
Because of this and other factors, Gramiccioni said his office and others in law enforcement are looking beyond overdose treatments and finding ways to stop the overdoses themselves.
"What we're talking about is just a reaction to an actual overdose," he said. "What we'd like to do is continue to make progress on getting to that person, getting them treatment, trying to break that cycle of addiction before they reach the point of a potentially fatal overdose."
Gramiccioni said for that to happen it will take more than the work of law enforcement to be successful. "It takes a proverbial village. It takes the state office of the attorney general, the county and state departments of health, it takes educating the public to let them know that this epidemic could affect them no matter where they live, or what race or ethnicity or gender they might be, or how much money they have in their household."
Another exciting development for Gramiccioni was the action taken by Gov. Chris Christie to set limits on the number of prescription pain pills doctors can give to their patients.
"We hope that that will result in a downturn because about 75 percent of the people that are addicted to opioids, they start out with prescription pill abuse," he said. "So to try and continue to work with the medical and dental communities to raise awareness on this being an issue, I'm hoping that's where we're really going to make a difference."
Taking the fight against the epidemic one step at a time Gramicioni said he is glad to see progress being made to help save lives in whatever ways they can find, including having these treatments available at local pharmacies.
"I hope that it will drive down the number of overdose deaths that we're experiencing here in New Jersey and around Monmouth."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com