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Pharmacies Embrace Naloxone, Especially In Rural Utah

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Pharmacies are on the front lines when it comes to reversing drug poisonings, and a new state program makes it possible for rural phramacies to dispense life-saving antidotes without presricptions.

Medical help can be hours away for overdose victims in the rural Mountain West. That’s one reason why it’s been so important for Utah and neighboring states to allow pharmaciesto dispense the antidote, naloxone.

Cliff Holt owns five drug stores, including the Hurricane Family Pharmacy. He had a hunch a new state program would help his customers in southeastern Utah, so he signed up right away when Utah started letting pharmacies offer naloxone without a doctor’s prescription. Over the first year, he heard from people five people who used it to reverse drug overdoses.

“It did make a difference,” he said, “and what we thought was correct really is correct. It really does save people’s lives.”

Rural pharmacies like Holt’s have embraced the state’s opioid program, according to new data from the state’s first year of what’s called a “standing order,” which let pharmacies dispense naloxone without a specific prescription by a doctor to a certain patient. The new Utah data shows that rural pharmacies, on average, handed out five times as many naloxone doses as urban pharmacies did. Exactly why that’s true is still being studied.

“Someone goes to a pharmacy to fill a very large quantity of an opioid, the pharmacist can say: ‘You should get a Naloxone kit with this. Let me talk to you about it’,” said Meghan Balough, who tracks the results for the Utah Department of Health.

She said Utah has dropped on the list of the state overdose rankings.

“But that’s not because we’re getting that much better,” she said. “It’s more that other states are getting worse. Drug overdose is still the leading cause of injury deaths in Utah.”

Professionals tackling the opioid crisis in Utah said the important thing isn’t rankings. It’s getting naloxone to everyone who might need it — whether they live in the city or a remote town, whether it comes from a doctor’s prescription, a pharmacist’s suggestion or a community outreach organization.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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