‘Our job’

As long as opioids are prescribed, local pharmacies are prepared for anything, including ‘saving lives’

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Gaughn’s Drug Store Owner and Pharmacist Scott Newton displays the two opioid-overdose rescue medications (left) Narcan and Evzio. Warren County pharmacies have the medications available and hope to change the connotation association with carrying them.

At a recent Warren County meeting of first responders and law enforcement personnel with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, it was suggested that some pharmacies will not stock the medication used to aid people who have overdosed on opioids.

There is a stigma attached to the drug. People may be hesitant to carry it and pharmacists may be hesitant to make it available.

That may be the case, but it is not true of local pharmacies in Warren County.

“As far as carrying it and dispensing it, we have no issues having it in stock,” Gaughn’s Drug Store Owner and Pharmacist Scott Newton said. “It’s our job as pharmacists to dispense these items.”

Chris Darling of the five pharmacies that are part of Darling Apothecary also makes Narcan available.

“We have had very limited inquiries into Narcan at any of our locations except for conversations with local emergency response personnel,” Darling said. “We do have it in stock in at least two of our five stores. We also have next-day availability if someone did require it and we did not have it in stock.”

Newton said patients who come in with a prescription for opioids get information about Narcan and Evzio.

“Don’t get offended,” he said. “We are not pointing you out as an abuser. These kits are about saving lives.”

While the pharmacist is filling the prescription, they are also running a check of the provided insurance to see if Narcan and Evzio are covered. Evzio is an injection that is the more expensive medication. Both come with visual instructions. Evzio “has a trainer,” Newton said. “It talks to you.”

If the insurance covers the rescue drugs, a pharmacist will talk to the patient about them.

The rescue drugs are not just for addicts.

“This is not just for drug abusers,” Newton said. “This is for anybody that might have prescription opioids in their household.”

“Think of this just as a bee sting allergy,” he said. “If you have a bee sting allergy, you carry an EpiPen.”

And you might use that EpiPen on someone else who is in anaphylactic shock.

“The more of these rescue kits that are out there in the community, the more likely a life is going to be saved,” he said. “Anybody can come in to the pharmacy and ask for one of these. No judgment. “We want to help the patient, whether they are our patient or not.”

Opioids are “sitting in your medicine cabinet,” Newton said. “Next thing you know one of your kids gets into it. You find them on your bathroom floor.”

The medications do not have any age limits and can be used on patients of any age, he said.

If the patient had a heart attack or stroke, or overdosed on some other medication or drug, Narcan and Evzio will not help, but neither will their use cause any additional problem.

In the cases where it is used on someone who did overdose on opioids, it will not be enjoyable for the patient. “It’s going to be absolutely miserable for that person when they come out of it,” Newton said.

The medication in the rescue kits — Narcan is a nasal spray and Evzio is an injection — temporarily block the receptors that take up opioids.

They are not intended to solve long-term problems and are expected to be used in conjunction with “immediate follow-up medical care,” he said.

Some people say they know exactly how to properly take their opioids, so they don’t need the rescue kits. “It’s a precaution,” Newton said. “Even if you’re not getting it for yourself. Most of the times they’re used, they’re not used for the person who got the prescription” of opioids.

Newton said Gaughn’s has dispensed about 50 of the kits since September and has heard of one being used successfully on a family member of the patient who received an opioid prescription. “I had somebody come in on Christmas Eve and say they had used the nasal spray on their nephew,” he said.

“We feel a responsibility as pharmacists,” he said. “We’re putting these (opioid) drugs out in the community in a legal way. We feel responsible to educate.”

There is an opioid epidemic. Gov. Tom Wolf has declared a health emergency in the state. Opioids are abused. And Narcan and Evzio, whether administered by family, friends, or emergency personnel, can keep people from dying of overdoses.

“Education of family members dealing with addiction is key to this drug saving lives,” Darling said. “It’s a crisis that is so widespread across our nation and here in our community. Addiction does not discriminate, all people in all walks of life are dealing with this problem. It’s something we locally, nationally, and legislatively must find a way to combat.”

Newton said all of his pharmacists have attended special training on the opioid epidemic and the use of the rescue kits.

“If you have one of these opioid medications in your household, you should have one of these emergency kits,” Newton said. “You don’t know. You never know.”

Carrying Narcan or Evzio does not make someone an addict and shouldn’t make that statement to anyone else. “We’re trying to change the connotation.”