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Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing — United States, 2012–2018

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Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing — United States, 2012–2018

August 14, 2019

Vital Signs: Pharmacy-Based Naloxone Dispensing — United States, 2012–2018

The CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain recommends considering prescribing naloxone when factors that increase risk for overdose are present (e.g., history of overdose or substance use disorder, opioid dosages ≥50 morphine milligram equivalents per day [high-dose], and concurrent use of benzodiazepines). In light of the high numbers of drug overdose deaths involving opioids, 36% of which in 2017 involved prescription opioids, improving access to naloxone is a public health priority. CDC examined trends and characteristics of naloxone dispensing from retail pharmacies at the national and county levels in the United States.

CDC analyzed 2012–2018 retail pharmacy data from IQVIA, a health care, data science, and technology company, to assess U.S. naloxone dispensing by U.S. Census region, urban/rural status, prescriber specialty, and recipient characteristics, including age group, sex, out-of-pocket costs, and method of payment. Factors associated with naloxone dispensing at the county level also were examined.

The number of naloxone prescriptions dispensed from retail pharmacies increased substantially from 2012 to 2018, including a 106% increase from 2017 to 2018 alone. Nationally, in 2018, one naloxone prescription was dispensed for every 69 high-dose opioid prescriptions. Substantial regional variation in naloxone dispensing was found, including a twenty-fivefold variation across counties, with lowest rates in the most rural counties. A wide variation was also noted by prescriber specialty. Compared with naloxone prescriptions paid for with Medicaid and commercial insurance, a larger percentage of prescriptions paid for with Medicare required out-of-pocket costs.

Despite substantial increases in naloxone dispensing, the rate of naloxone prescriptions dispensed per highdose opioid prescription remains low, and overall naloxone dispensing varies substantially across the country. Naloxone distribution is an important component of the public health response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Health care providers can prescribe or dispense naloxone when overdose risk factors are present and counsel patients on how to use it. Efforts to improve naloxone access and distribution work most effectively with efforts to improve opioid prescribing, implement other harm-reduction strategies, promote linkage to medications for opioid use disorder treatment, and enhance public health and public safety partnerships.

This report can be downloaded below.  

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