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Iowa offers free Narcan kits to reverse overdoses from painkillers or heroin

by Tony Leys, Des Moines Register

State health officials are offering thousands of free Narcan kits for Iowans to keep on hand in case they need to reverse an opioid overdose.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is distributing the emergency kits through community pharmacies or online from the University of Iowa Hospitals.

Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a medication that can reverse overdoses of opioids, including painkillers and heroin. It has been available without prescription in Iowa since 2017, and the state distributed 2,000 free test kits in 2018.

Health department officials said Tuesday they would use a $500,000 federal grant to distribute another 3,400 kits. Each kit includes two Narcan doses that can be sprayed into the nose of someone who has overdosed.

“This allows Iowans to be prepared in the event they encounter someone experiencing a suspected opioid overdose, or perhaps use opioids themselves and want others they’re involved with to know they have it,” Kevin Gabbert, who leads the health department's opioid response program, said in a news release. 

Officials recommend that Iowans keep Narcan kits on hand if they or someone in their household uses opioid drugs. The emergency medication works by blocking opioids' effect on the brain. Narcan can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breaths have been slowed by opioids. However, the reversal experience can be intense, and bystanders who administer Narcan are advised to also call 911 and have the affected person taken to a hospital for further treatment. 

Narcan doses normally can cost $150 or more in retail stores. The free kits can be obtained at participating pharmacies, where pharmacists will determine if people qualify because of their personal use of opioids or use by someone in their household. People also may obtain the kits by talking to a University of Iowa pharmacist, then having the medication mailed to their homes. To find a participating pharmacy or set up a telemedicine appointment, go to or call 319-678-7825.

Opioid overdose deaths are less common in Iowa than in many other states, but they continue to happen here. The number of such deaths in Iowa dropped from 206 in 2017 to 137 in 2018, which officials said might be partly due to the broader availability of Narcan to the public and to police and ambulance crews. But Iowa's opioid overdose deaths climbed again in 2019, to 155, according to preliminary figures from the health department.

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