Photo: James Heilman, MD/Wikimedia Commons
Naloxone can prevent opioid overdose deaths, but only a tiny percentage of Americans at risk are prescribed the lifesaving drug.
That's the key finding from an analysis of nationwide data on adults with private health insurance.
The researchers found that while naloxone -- Evzio, Narcan -- prescriptions in this group rose between January 2014 and mid-2017, only 1.6 percent of those taking high doses of prescription opioid painkillers had filled a naloxone prescription by the last six months of the study period.
And the percentage of filled naloxone prescriptions was no higher among adults who had survived an overdose or had been diagnosed with opioid addiction ("opioid use disorder"), the study found.
Naloxone can help reverse an overdose of many types of opioids, including prescription pain medicines such as oxycodone and illegal drugs such as heroin.
The study -- done by a team from the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System -- was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend prescribing naloxone to any patient who takes high doses of opioid pain medicines or who has other major overdose risk factors, including a history of opioid use disorder or opioid overdose.
Naloxone is also recommended for patients who take opioids and the sedative benzodiazepine at the same time, because the two drugs can interact.
"The vast majority of naloxone prescribing is to patients who have received opioid prescriptions, but there are other groups at high risk for overdose but not receiving prescription opioids, including people using only street drugs, that warrant further attention," said research team leader Dr. Lewei (Allison) Lin, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Addiction Center.
"Over the course of the entire study period, we also found that although both high-dosage opioid prescriptions and having an opioid use disorder were associated with receiving naloxone, the same wasn't true for those with a history of overdose or those with other substance use disorders," she said in a university news release.
Lin said more work is needed to guide naloxone prescribing to patients at highest risk for overdose.