UK Researcher Says Nasal Spray Antidote Could Reduce Heroin Overdose Deaths

Aug 7, 2014

Naloxone Hydrochloride syringe
Credit M, Flickr Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A drug designed to reduce heroin-related overdoses has received a makeover. 

A year from now, a prescription may come in the form of a nasal spray. 

The most common method of using heroin is through injection. Until recently, the same could be said for administering Naloxone. It's a drug that can prevent an overdose death if delivered within a certain amount of time.

University of Kentucky Pharmacy Practice and Science Professor Daniel Wermeling has developed a nasal application of the anti-opioid drug.

"When we look at other drugs that have been developed as an injection, it's usually a needle free system that was approved afterwards, that actually becomes more adopted by the public," said Wermeling.

Wermeling believes the easier nasal spray delivery method will not enable heroin addicts.

"They don't use this as a way to enable them to abuse more drugs," said Wermeling. "In fact, it's already being published, it shows that if we give people Naloxone, it doesn't influence what people do, because the drivers for drug use isn't.  They don't think like you and I do.  Their minds are in a totally different place."

In addition to heroin addicts, he says the Naloxone spray could help put a stop to accidental overdoses in patients treated for pain.  He envisions doctors prescribing the anti-opioid spray WITH pain medication for at risk patients.

"If there is an at risk member in the household, when the doctor is considering prescribing one of these opioids like oxycontin or methodone, things like this," said Wermeling. "And there are risk factors in the household for overdose, then the doctor should consider co-prescribing, and that's a term now, co-prescribing naloxone with the opioid."

Catherine Martin, Director of UK's Division for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, would like to see Wermeling involved in the new adolescent health, recovery, and treatment training grant program.

"I want Doctor Wermeling's ideas on how to get this product out to families in the state," said Martin. "And I'm inviting him to be part of the adolescent treatment team."

The Naloxone spray delivery is undergoing final clinical review.  The FDA has granted the drug fast track designation.  If all goes well, Wermeling says Naloxone spray could be commercially available through prescription a year from now.