Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to be able to supply naloxone without a prescription

The expanded access to take-home naloxone follows two government consultations carried out in 2021 and 2024, respectively.
Naloxone nasal spray stickers on display at Bathgate Fire Station in Scotland

The government has said it will “shortly update legislation” to allow pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to provide take-home supplies of naloxone without a prescription.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed on 14 May 2024 that more professionals in the UK will be able to supply the life-saving opioid overdose antidote for future use, following the second of two consultations on the issue.

In its response to the consultation, also published on 14 May 2024, the government set out a list of professionals who will be able to supply take-home naloxone without a prescription, including members of the armed forces, the police force, prison staff, probation officers and registered healthcare professionals (midwives, nurses, pharmacy professionals, nurses and paramedics).

The DHSC said that opioid-related deaths make up the largest proportion of drug-related deaths across the UK, with an average of 40 deaths per week.

The response added that opioids were involved in 73% of drug misuse deaths registered in England in 2022, 60% in Wales and 82% in Scotland.

Naloxone, which is injected into the outer thigh or upper arm, can almost immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and prevent drug-related deaths by reversing breathing difficulties.

In August 2021, the government launched a consultation on expanding access to naloxone, proposing to enable pharmacists to supply naloxone without a prescription. This was followed by a second consultation, which opened in January 2024, proposing to amend legislation to allow supply by a wider group of services and professionals, including “registered pharmacy professionals”.

The government also proposed that mandatory training would be introduced for professionals intending to supply take-home naloxone without a prescription.

Commenting on the announcement, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “We welcome the government’s decision to press ahead with their proposed changes to the supply of naloxone, which we supported in our consultation response.

“This will make it easier to supply naloxone as part of locally-commissioned public health services, removing the need to use a [patient group direction] and the associated bureaucracy,” he added.

James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, also welcomed the changes to naloxone access but added: “While this statutory instrument is a step in the right direction, we would welcome wider access being provided through pharmacies.”

From October 2023, a national service providing emergency supplies of naloxone from every community pharmacy in Scotland began, with take-home naloxone due to be available as a “later phase” of the same programme.

On 14 May 2024, NHS England published its ‘Ten-year strategic plan for the drug and alcohol treatment and recovery workforce 2024–2034‘.

The national workforce plan revealed that there are 22 specialist pharmacy professionals currently working in the sector in England.

It recommends that organisations providing drug and alcohol treatment services “should consider the many benefits of employing pharmacy professionals and the longer-term potential for return on investment”, and if they do not employ pharmacy professionals, they should “consider seeking sessional input or ad hoc expertise and advice from a pharmacist to enhance the MDT [multidisciplinary team] approach in their service”.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2024, Vol 312, No 7985;312(7985)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.314411

1 comment

  • Stephen Gabell

    This is encouraging news given the devastation the opioid epidemic is causing. I've been able to supply naloxone in Ontario since I arrived in 2017, and uptake increased significantly once we were able to supply the nasal spray instead of the injection - in an emergency situation the fewer barriers to using a product the better.

    I would encourage pharmacy organizations to push for narcan nasal spray to be able to be supplied without a prescription, and to the widest possible population. Supplies to those on prescribed opioids should be seen as best practice.


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