The US chief doctor wants more Americans to start carrying the overdose antidote naloxone to help combat the nation’s opioid crisis and save lives.
Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams issued his office’s first national public health advisory in 13 years at the National Rx Drug Abuse And Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Thursday,
He said he hopes those who are at risk – as well as their friends and family – will keep the antidote on hand and learn how to use it.
“You don’t have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life,” he said.
Dr Adams pointed out that more than half of opioid overdose deaths in the US occur at home.
According to federal data, more than 42,000 Americans suffered fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, more than double the number who died in 2010.
Naloxone can restore a person’s breathing after it is injected or sprayed in the nostrils, quickly bringing overdose victims back from near-death.
The drug, which is often referred to by the brand names Narcan or Evzio, is available over the counter in most states and is regularly used by first responders across the country.
Dr Adams said 9% of all insured Americans are covered to purchase naloxone.
Narcan nasal spray, one of the most widely available products, can cost around 80 US dollars (£57) for one dose. Generic, injectable versions of naloxone are cheaper.
For those who are uninsured, the antidote is often available at little or no cost through local public health programmes, Dr Adams said.
He also wants more federal funds dedicated to increasing naloxone access on local levels.
“Costs should not and, in the near future, will not be a barrier to accessing naloxone for anyone in America,” he said.
As of July 2017, all 50 states have passed laws improving naloxone access, according to The Network for Public Health Law, a non-profit that helps government agencies.
Maine’s Republican governor Paul LePage has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the push, arguing that naloxone does not treat addiction and discourages people from seeking treatment by offering a safety net if they overdose.
Proponents, however, argue that greater access to naloxone does not draw people to illegal drug use or foster an addiction.
Dr Adams said naloxone will not single-handedly solve the opioid crisis and should instead be used “in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment”.
“There are people out there who think naloxone doesn’t make a difference: you’re just going to go on and misuse substances again,” he said.
“That would be like me saying I’m not going to do CPR on someone having a heart attack because if we save them, they’re just going to go out there and eat fast food and be back here all over again.”
Dr Adams’ recommendation for more people to possess naloxone comes a month after Philadelphia’s health department urged residents to do the same.
The last surgeon general public health advisory was issued in 2005 and focused on prenatal alcohol exposure.