Deerfield-based Walgreens will make the heroin overdose antidote drug naloxone available without a prescription at pharmacies in Illinois and 34 other states, it was announced Tuesday.
The drug, which comes in an injection or nasal spray form, will be covered by most insurance plans. For those without insurance, it will cost $78 per dose under the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club, company officials said.
Naloxone over the counterWhat will it do? Reverse the effects of heroin or opioid overdose.
What will it cost? Most insurance plans will cover it, but if you don't have insurance, the cost under Walgreens Prescription Savings Club will be $78 per dose for Naloxone nasal dispensed with an atomizer. The price of the injection was not available Tuesday. Most protocols require two doses to be dispensed, in case the patient relapses before medical help can get there.
When will it be available in the suburbs? Walgreens doesn't have an exact date, but it will be in 2016.
Will it be behind the counter? Yes. People will need to speak with a pharmacist and receive training on how to administer naloxone.
Walgreens also announced it will set up kiosks in pharmacies in 39 states, including Illinois, for people to safely dispose of old medications.
It's part of Walgreens' initiative to help combat drug abuse and misuse. CVS pharmacy has been selling naloxone over the counter in other states, but Walgreens is the first pharmacy chain to offer it in Illinois.
Also known as Narcan, it is used to reverse an overdose of heroin or other opioid drugs. Because of the suburban heroin and opioid drug epidemic, many local police departments and some schools stock the drug.
Since late 2014, naloxone has been credited with saving more than 170 lives in the suburbs. It has saved 100 lives in DuPage County, 55 in Lake County, and 18 in Kane County, according to county officials. Cook County did not have data available, and McHenry County officials could not be reached for comment.
Lake County Undersheriff Ray Rose said officials now need to shift their focus to what happens to an addict after they are saved by naloxone.
"While we should commend Walgreens for all they have done, we need to start focusing on getting these people into treatment to help them with their addiction," Rose said. "That's the next step. We need to get these people treated after they are saved to stop the continued drug abuse."
Chris Reed, a former heroin addict who runs The Other Side, a sober bar in Crystal Lake, agrees this won't stop drug addiction, but it will give addicts another chance to beat their addiction.
The drug saved his life twice when he was 19. And a few weeks later, he got clean and has been sober for six years. Today, his sober bar draws a crowd of 200 people every Saturday night and has a weekly support group meeting that attracts 100 people, and he does advocacy work to help recovering addicts.
"If I wasn't given that opportunity to live, none of this stuff would have happened," said Reed, 25, of Fox River Grove. "It's not a solution to anything, other than saving people's lives who don't know any other way to live. They've developed an addiction that's so hard to beat. Everyone deserves an opportunity to recover. To me, that's what naloxone does. It gives people another shot, no pun intended."
Reed doubts naloxone would encourage more drug use, because he said addicts don't want to overdose. Plus, naloxone brings a person back to life in a violent manner, with many of the same symptoms as drug withdrawal. He remembers gasping for breath in a state of panic, having a pounding headache and feeling nauseated.
Blake Buccieri, 25, of Lake in the Hills, a recovering addict who's been sober for two months, said naloxone will be valuable to parents of addicts. He said it's common for parents to let their addicted child live at home, rather than out on the street. Now, if they find their child passed out, they can use naloxone to save their life.
"The number-one thing is to have it available," Buccieri said.
The idea was proposed to Walgreens during the Lake County Opioid Initiative meetings, said group member Chelsea Laliberte, founder of the advocacy group Live4Lali.
Walgreens' decision was hailed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk. Dold and Kirk have encouraged CVS to do the same thing in Illinois.
CVS will expand its naloxone program nationwide, but as of Tuesday, the company could not confirm whether Illinois would be among the states.
"We believe this is a significant step to saving lives through the use of naloxone, not just in Lake County, but in the entire country," Dold said.
Kirk, who has an Anti-Heroin Task Force, called the Walgreens initiatives "strong steps toward confronting this crisis."
"(It will) prevent further tragedies like we see in Chicago's suburbs, where heroin is taking a life, on average, every three days," he said.
Laliberte said there is no silver bullet to solve drug addiction, but this will help while they work on better prevention efforts.
"It's a complicated problem. Nobody knows yet what the right solution is," she said. "Sometimes it takes that one opportunity, of having their lives saved, to make them motivated."
It is not yet known when the drug will be available in suburban Walgreens stores. The company is rolling out the program state by state throughout the year. When complete, it will be available without a prescription in more than 5,800 of Walgreens' nearly 8,200 stores, including most of its 24-hour pharmacies.
"We understand the challenges our communities face, and we stand ready to help our patients and customers lead healthier lives. When the stakes are this high, the solutions must be comprehensive," said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of pharmacy and retail operations.
Walgreens will also install safe medication disposal kiosks in more than 500 drugstores in 39 states, including Illinois, primarily at locations open 24 hours. They will allow individuals to safely and conveniently dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications, at no cost. The kiosks will be available during regular pharmacy hours and will offer one of the best ways to ensure medications are not accidentally used or intentionally misused by someone else, spokesmen said.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report