It is no secret that the number of painkiller overdoses in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Since 1999, the amount of prescription painkillers sold in the United States has almost quadrupled, but there has been no overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Death from overdosing, however, more than tripled from 2000 to 2010.

Heroin use is also increasing. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 669,000 Americans abuse the substance—twice as many as in 2007—and the number of deaths from the drug has doubled from 2006 to 2010. This rise is believed to be connected to prescription drug abuse, as those who become addicted to painkillers switch to heroin because it is inexpensive and more easily accessible.

This rise in the number of overdoses, which shows no sign of slowing down, is why CVS Pharmacy is expanding its consumer access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription to 12 additional states across the United States. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of overdose from heroin and other painkillers. Paramedics, emergency medicine doctors, and even some police agencies have been using it for years, and now it will be more easily available for anyone to get the lifesaving medication.

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Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids, including heroin, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, hydromorphone, and buprenorphine. The medication is administered by shot or nasal spray. It works by blocking the opioid receptors that are targeted by heroin and other prescription painkillers. Naloxone is nonaddictive and nontoxic. If taken by someone who wasn’t experiencing overdose symptoms, it would have no effect.

“The only thing naloxone does is reverse an opiate overdose,” said Laura Thomas, California deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s not a drug that people can get high on, it’s not a drug that has any other repercussions or side effects, and increasingly people understand that we need to get naloxone into the hands of anyone who’s likely to be at the scene of an overdose.”

CVS has already made the drug available to its stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with the latest expansion setting the number to 14 states where nonprescription naloxone is available. The new states affected by the announcement are Arkansas, California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

“Over 44,000 people die from accidental drug overdoses every year in the United States and most of those deaths are from opioids, including controlled substance pain medication and illegal drugs such as heroin,” Tom Davis, vice president of pharmacy professional practices at CVS, said in a statement. “Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses and by providing access to this medication in our pharmacies without a prescription in more states, we can help save lives.”

Other independent pharmacies and a few larger chains have also made steps toward increased nonprescription access to the medication, but the decision by CVS is the largest and most significant so far.


  1. Treating a drug overdose with naloxone. WebMD website.  Reviewed March 17, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2015.
  2. Wattles J. CVS stocks overdose-antidote drug in 12 more states. CNN Money website. September 24, 2015. Accessed October 15, 2015.
  3. Wing N. CVS to sell overdose reversal drug without a prescription in 12 more states. The Huffington Post website. Updated September 27, 2015. Accessed October 15, 2015.
  4. Image source:
    <a href=”″>Ken Wolter</a> / <a href=”″></a>