A person rides past a Walgreens truck, owned by the Walgreens Boots Alliance, in Manhattan, New York City, on Nov. 26, 2021.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Walgreens on Wednesday said it will offer its own cheaper version of the over-the-counter opioid overdose reversal spray naloxone. The drug is available online and will be in all stores at the end of the month. 

The drugstore retailer aims to boost the availability of the lifesaving medication in the U.S. as the nation grapples with the toll of the opioid epidemic and attempts to bring down alarmingly high drug fatality rates.

More than 645,000 people died from overdoses involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids, from 1999 to 2021, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Naloxone can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, when administered in time. The drug blocks the effects of opioids on the brain, restoring normal breathing and preventing death.

Despite naloxone’s efficacy, access to the treatment “remains limited in many communities,” according to a Walgreens release. 

The company said it will sell a two-dose pack of “Walgreens Brand Naloxone” for $34.99. That’s around $10 cheaper than the over-the-counter branded drug Narcan, which became the first prescription-free version of naloxone to win Food and Drug Administration approval last year. Previously, patients needed a prescription to access naloxone.

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“That was a concerted decision to really do everything we can to increase accessibility, not just in terms of quantity and availability, but also in price,” Dr. Priya Mammen, senior medical director in Walgreens’ Office of Clinical Integrity, told CNBC in an interview. 

The company said the launch of its prescription-free naloxone nasal spray comes after the FDA’s recent approval of the product. It is the generic equivalent of over-the-counter Narcan, which Walgreens currently offers in its stores.

Mammen hopes Walgreens can help reduce the stigma associated with drug overdoses and naloxone use. 

The drug “is not just for some people. It’s a lifesaving medication that can intervene on anyone at any age, anytime, and it’s something that families, individuals and communities can empower themselves by having it available and can be part of the solution,” she said. 

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