Routinely prescribing naloxone to certain patients who take opioid medications might reduce the number of overdose deaths, a new study suggests.
The study followed almost 2,000 people who were prescribed opioid painkillers for long-term pain at San Francisco clinics, HealthDay reports.
About 38 percent were also prescribed the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Patients were more likely to receive a prescription for naloxone if they were on a higher dose of opioids, or had experienced an opioid-related emergency room visit.
Patients who received a naloxone prescription had 47 percent fewer opioid-related emergency department visits per month in the six months after receiving the prescription, and 63 percent fewer visits after one year, compared with patients who did not receive naloxone.
Patients who received naloxone were told when and how to use the drug, which was provided in a nasal spray device. They were also told to ensure someone else knew where the naloxone was, and how to use it.
Programs that have been dispensing naloxone directly to people who use illegal drugs have had a remarkable impact on overdose death rates, according to study author Dr. Phillip Coffin, Director of Substance Use Research with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
The programs are also cost-effective, he added.
“Some have voiced concern that if patients received naloxone they would increase their opioid use,” Coffin said in a news release. “But that did not happen. The amount of opioids prescribed to patients in the clinics declined during the study, with no net difference between those who were and were not prescribed naloxone. In fact, we found that patients who received naloxone were more likely to be on a lower dose by the end of the study versus having no change in dose.”
The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.