State Sen. Velis alarmed over pharmacies limiting Narcan access

Taylor McAndrew, the coordinator of Hampshire HOPE, refills one of two cabinets offering naloxone for free in Pulaski Park in Northampton on Sept. 6. The city is the first in Hampshire County to install the publicly accessible cabinets.

Taylor McAndrew, the coordinator of Hampshire HOPE, refills one of two cabinets offering naloxone for free in Pulaski Park in Northampton on Sept. 6. The city is the first in Hampshire County to install the publicly accessible cabinets. GAZETTE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2024 11:26 AM

WESTFIELD — State law requires the overdose prevention drug naloxone — known by its brand name, Narcan — to be always be available over the counter, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed it to be sold directly to consumers since last spring.

Yet a recent Boston Globe survey revealed that almost one in three Massachusetts pharmacies did not have naloxone on their shelves, or had it hidden from view of customers.

As the state Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, expressed alarm over the findings of the survey of more than 60 pharmacies across the state.

“Narcan saves lives, but only when people are able to get it,” Velis said in a statement. “With the FDA’s monumental decision this past spring and clear state guidelines, it is absolutely unacceptable that we are not seeing Narcan stocked on all store shelves, in every pharmacy, across our state.”

Velis, whose district encompasses Easthampton, Southampton and Holyoke, said he plans to reach out to the Department of Public Health about current state guidelines, and will be raising the issue of access as part of his joint committee’s work this session.

“The very heart of the FDA’s decision and our state’s guidelines was to make Narcan more available and reduce stigma,” Velis said. “If you hide it and make people go back to pharmacy to ask for assistance, the entire purpose is defeated. We cannot lose sight that people’s lives are at stake.”

Last summer, Northampton became the first community in Hampshire County to make naloxone even more accessible, with two cabinets installed at Pulaski Park as part of the city’s commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day. Both cabinets contains nine kits, each with two doses of Narcan nasal spray, as well as instructions posted on how to administer the drug to reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses.

Greenfield has five indoor and four outdoor naloxone cabinets, while Berkshire County communities, including Pittsfield, also have sites for naloxone.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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