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CVS Offering Overdose Reversal Drug Without a Prescription in N.H.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

CVS Health is the latest pharmacy chain to offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone, known commonly as Narcan, at its stores in New Hampshire. 

The company announced Thursday that people can now purchase naloxone without an individual doctor’s prescription at all of its locations in the state. A two-dose kit of naloxone at CVS carries a list price of somewhere between $60 and $90 dollars — depending on whether someone's buying it as a nasal spray or an injectable dose — according to a spokeswoman.

In December, Rite Aid became the first pharmacy chain to take advantage of a new state law that allows pharmacies to obtain standing orders to offer large-scale distribution of the overdose reversal drug.

According to Rick Cricenti, who directs the emergency services unit at the Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid’s still the only pharmacy chain that's worked with the state to get a standing order.

"Rite Aid did not have medical staff that could issue the order here in New Hampshire, so we used one of our contracted doctors to issue the order," Cricenti said. "He was more than happy to do so."

But when CVS Health announced that it, too, would start stocking naloxone at its 49 locations in New Hampshire, it didn't need to rely on DHHS for help. According to Cricenti, pharmacies don't necessarily have to go through the state to get these standing orders in place.

“CVS may have used their own medical staff to do so. Or they may have found a doctor here in New Hampshire that they might have had some sort of agreement with so that he or she could issue an order," Cricenti says.

In this case, a CVS spokeswoman says the company got its standing order from a physician who works at New Hampshire Hospital.

As long as an authorized physician is the one issuing the order, Cricenti says, the outcome for patients is basically the same.

"When a physician issues a standing order for a medication, that would allow, in this case, the pharmacy to be able to fulfill a prescription as if the product is off-the-shelf for people so that they could purchase it as thought it was any off-the-shelf medication such as Asprin or the like,” he explained.

The law opening the door to this kind of Narcan distribution went into effect about 10 months ago. Right now, it's hard to tell how widely it's been used, as neither DHHS nor the Board of Pharmacy keeps track of all of the locations offering naloxone without a prescription.

Still, Cricenti said, "Joe Citizen could call us, and we could help direct them to a pharmacy that might have it or connect them with their local public health network that may be able to help them, as well."

Walgreens has also approached the state about setting up a standing order to distribute Narcan here, but Cricenti says that hasn't moved forward yet. The state's also looking into issuing a blanket order that would cover all independent pharmacists, but that hasn't been finalized, either.

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