Buying the life-saving overdose reversal drug commonly known as Narcan is now easier than ever.
Walgreens stores nationwide began rolling out the sale of Narcan over-the-counter for around $50 on Sept. 5.
The Standard visited a SoMa Walgreens on Sept. 7 and was able to buy Narcan—or naloxone—without so much as an eyebrow raised.
Buying the drug at Walgreens “helps facilitate conversation between Walgreens’ pharmacists and customers, allowing them to address questions in real-time about [Narcan],” a spokesperson said.
When The Standard asked for Narcan at the Walgreens store at Fourth and Townsend streets, pharmacist Mario Alvarez went to the back before a box with no questions asked before ringing us up for $48.87 after taxes.
Alvarez said he first saw the boxes of Narcan in inventory earlier on Thursday. He and another pharmacist working at the time said no other customers had asked for it yet.
Alvarez added he doesn’t expect many customers to ask for Narcan at his location but he felt that demand for the drug could be higher at Walgreens stores in neighborhoods hit harder by drug addiction, like the Tenderloin.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health said having over-the-counter Narcan as an option will complement the agency’s efforts to distribute the drug to city departments, schools and community organizations. The department did not disclose how much the city pays for Narcan but said “they are able to negotiate the lowest price” directly from manufacturers and distributors.
The National Harm Reduction Coalition supported the wider availability of Narcan but noted that most opioid overdoses in California are reversed by community organizations that get Narcan for free through state-funded programs.
“At this price, it seems this product is intended for an affluent consumer who may or may not be likely to witness an overdose,” Mary Sylla, the coalition’s policy director, said. “The best way to reduce opioid overdose deaths is to get Narcan into the hands of people who use drugs and harm-reduction service providers.”
More than 400 people in San Francisco have died of drug overdoses in the first six months of 2023, according to data released by the city’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Overdose deaths in the city spiked to a record 725 in 2020. The death toll dipped to 640 in 2021 and then climbed to 647 deaths in 2022. The retail price for the drug nationwide at Walgreens stores is $44.99, a company spokesperson said, following the recommendation of Narcan’s manufacturer, Emergent BioSolutions. The FDA approved Narcan for over-the-counter use in March.
Eddie Sun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org