Walgreens’ pharmacies are the only ones in Bangor selling the anti-overdose medication Narcan without a prescription even though for nearly a month state law has allowed such over-the-counter sales.
Emergency legislation that became law in late June specifically authorized pharmacists not to require prescriptions for naloxone, which can reverse an opiate overdose and is commonly sold as Narcan nasal spray. Yet the Bangor Daily News has found that of the 15 pharmacies in Bangor, only the two Walgreens stores, on Broadway and Oak Street, sell Narcan that way.
The Walgreens chain announced in December that Maine was one of the states where it would be dispensing Narcan without a prescription, “as part of a national effort by Walgreens to make naloxone easier to obtain,” spokesman Phil Caruso said this week.
“It’s a medication that has been proved effective,” said Caruso, adding that naloxone is now available over the counter at Walgreens in 44 states. “We want to make it as easy as possible for a family member, friend or anyone to save a life. That is the first step to the road to recovery.”
Other drug stores in Maine seem to be waiting for regulations to be issued on implementation of the new law.
“We are keeping in touch with Maine’s Board of Pharmacy,” Erin Shield Britt, director of communication for CVS, said, adding that naloxone is available over the counter at CVS pharmacies in 41 other states. “We are pleased to see Maine moving toward allowing our shared goal of increasing access to this life-saving medication.”
Meanwhile, drug overdoses continue to claim more than twice as many people in Maine as traffic accidents.
In order to buy Narcan at Walgreens, a customer only needs to ask the pharmacist, who will register the person in the store’s computer in order to bill them before dispensing the medicine, which costs $135.99 for a two-unit kit of Narcan nasal spray. With Cigna insurance, the price drops to $40.
“This is the first time anybody has ever asked for it,” the pharmacist on duty at the Walgreens on Broadway said Tuesday.
The number of fatal overdoses in Maine jumped nearly 40 percent to 376 in 2016. The vast majority, 84 percent, were caused by opiates or in combination with an opiate. The state had 160 traffic deaths last year.