Despite saving thousands of lives, most Nebraskans are unfamiliar with Narcan

LINCOLN, Neb. — Every five minutes, an American dies from an opioid or fentanyl overdose, but a drug called naloxone, better known by its brand name Narcan, can help reverse overdoses and save lives. Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and restoring breathing. It is so effective that the Federal Drug Administration’s advisory committee recently voted unanimously to recommend making it available without a prescription, which could mean it will soon be available over the counter in all states.

However, a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Rural Drug Addiction Research Center shows that most Nebraskans are not familiar with the drug. Over three years, the center found that only 10-20% of Nebraskans know where and how to get naloxone, and a quarter to a third don’t understand what Narcan is. Even among those who recognize the drug, only 25% know how to use it properly.

Despite this lack of awareness, Narcan is available for free throughout Nebraska. Almost 100 pharmacies participate in the free Narcan distribution program, and a list of locations can be found here.

In addition to the free program, a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services standing order allows anyone to buy Narcan without a prescription from any licensed pharmacist. The state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Roger Donovick, says opioid overdose deaths are a growing concern in Nebraska, with 232 people dying of drug overdoses in 2020, and at least 101 of those deaths being opioid-related, up from 126 overdose deaths in 2015.