The federal Food and Drug Administration approved a simple-to-use nasal spray version of naloxone in November.

CVS Pharmacies in New York State will begin providing the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) to their customers without a prescription, the state health department announced today.

Naloxone temporarily blocks the effects of opioids — including heroin and prescription pain medications — allowing a stricken individual to regain consciousness and resume normal breathing.

Without the intervention, overdose victims often die.

Opiate overdose fatalities have risen as opiate use and addiction has increased. The number of opiate overdose deaths in Suffolk County had increased by more 72 percent between 2004 and 2011 — before Narcan was first made widely available in 2012.

Opiate overdose deaths peaked in 2011 at 191. In 2015, there were 126 opiate overdose deaths — and 483 Narcan overdose reversals, according to tentative numbers provided by the county health department.

“Narcan saves lives,” says Suffolk County Police Detective Bob Donohue, who runs a police department program called “The Ugly Truth” for parents of high school students. Donohue educates parents about heroin and pill use by young people, and about the symptoms of heroin and pill use.

The program trains parents in Narcan use and provides them with home Narcan kits.

“We’ve trained over 1,000 people,” Donohue said in an interview. He said the county is bringing the “Ugly Truth” program to Mattituck High School early this year, in cooperation with Southold Town Police. Donohue said he hopes to bring the program to other school districts on the North Fork.

Heroin and opiate use is everywhere, Donohue said. It does not discriminate based on geography, income, ethnicity or race, he said.

The county health department was not able to provide geographic breakdowns for overdose deaths but locally, Southold Police reported three Narcan reversals in 2014 and Riverhead Police reported one in 2015, a health department spokesperson said. Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps reported six Narcan reversals in 2015 and Southold Fire Department reported one.

Removing barriers to use of the drug will help prevent more opiate-related fatalities, said Robert Delagi, the county’s director of emergency medical services and public health emergency preparedness, who praised the agreement between state health officials and the national chain pharmacy.

Naloxone poses no danger to individuals who come into contact with it, and has no potential for being abused, the health department said. It works only if a person has opioids in his or her system; the medication has no effect if opioids are absent.

The drug counteracts the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally, state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in the release.

Naloxone is effective in blocking the effects of an opioid for 30 to 90 minutes. When the naloxone has worn off, someone may slip back into a life-threatening overdose, the health department said. So all individuals who are given naloxone should still go to the hospital with EMS personnel.

CVS pharmacists are currently receiving training and ordering naloxone for their stores, the health department said. The pharmacies will provide training to customers purchasing the drug, which is administered either through injection or by nasal spray. Although traditionally administered by emergency medical service or hospital personnel, naloxone can be administered by lay people with minimal training.

The drug and training will be made available without prescription at 479 pharmacies across the state, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor’s office said the state hopes to add 1,000 more pharmacies in early 2016.

CVS is already providing naloxone in at least 14 other states without requiring prescriptions.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.