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Life-saving drug absent in Macon pharmacies amid apparent opioid epidemic

Narcan helps first responders deal with overdoses

Community Ambulance education director Karston Bradford shows how suspected drug overdoses are fought in the field.
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Community Ambulance education director Karston Bradford shows how suspected drug overdoses are fought in the field.

There’s an over-the-counter nasal spray that can stop or reverse the effects of an opiate-related overdose within minutes, but it’s hard to come by in Macon, where four people have died and nearly 20 have been hospitalized since Sunday for suspected overdoses.

Authorities have not yet identified the deadly drug that’s being passed around Middle Georgia on counterfeit yellow pills labeled “PERCOCET,” but doctors said at a news conference Tuesday that Naloxone, a drug sold under the brand Narcan, was administered to incoming patients with varying results.

Three months ago, Mercer Medicine professor Dr. Allen Tindol Jr. searched for the nasal spray to use as a teaching prop for a demonstration. He called 20 pharmacies and not a single one had Narcan in stock.

On Wednesday, The Telegraph called dozens of pharmacies in Macon and only found one that carries the spray: Graves Pharmacy inside the Medical Center, Navicent Health.

Owner David Graves said there hasn’t been a demand for Narcan, but he ordered a box of it after talking with Tindol.

“It’s kind of like you hope to have a fire extinguisher in the home when you have a fire. When something happens, you want to be prepared and have it,” Graves said. “But there’s a cost.”

A single box costs $150 and it contains two doses.

Graves said he sold the box to a man who had insurance and wound up paying a nominal co-pay for it. Graves has since ordered another box, but he’s not expecting demand to skyrocket.

Opiate abusers “don’t typically budget for preventable measures,” he said. From a business standpoint, buying the expensive drug is “cash sitting on a shelf.”

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office is stocking up, though.

It just ordered Narcan a few days ago, Lt. Michael Kenirey said.

“Right now we’re in the process of scheduling training for the officers” to use it,” Kenirey said. In case deputies “get accidentally exposed or if they come across somebody” who has overdosed.

It was unclear how many doses of Narcan the sheriff’s department has, but Lt. Randy Gonzalez said a grant covered the cost.

Narcan nasal spray is made by Adapt Pharma Inc., based in Ireland. The drug can reverse or stop an opiate-related overdose within minutes.

The FDA approved in 2015 the use of Narcan as opiate-related overdoses increasingly became a leading cause of injury death, surpassing car crashes, the FDA’s website said.

The drug has been available over-the-counter in Georgia pharmacies since December.

“The state of Georgia and the country as a whole are currently experiencing an opioid abuse epidemic,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a December statement. “In the fight against this trend, Naloxone has come to be considered an important and life-saving tool in treating opioid overdoses.”

The state department of health keeps track of the names and addresses of people who buy Narcan, but dumps the information after two years, according to its website.

Narcan spray is expensive and hard to find, but, Kenirey said, “if you purchase this, it may actually save your life or save the life of somebody who’s having an opiate overdose.”

Laura Corley: 478-744-4334, @Lauraecor

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