As the opioid epidemic spreads across East Tennessee, local pharmacies are joining the fight to prevent overdose deaths.
A new Tennessee law passed in 2016 allows authorized pharmacists to dispense Naloxone without a prescription from a doctor. Naloxone is the drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Under the law, pharmacists must undergo training before dispensing the drug.
Belew Drug, which currently has three locations in the Knoxville area, started its Naloxone program in April and began dispensing it in May. So far, the pharmacy has dispensed about 30 types of Naloxone since the program began.
"With the overdose deaths that have gone up in Tennessee, especially here in the East Tennessee area, it just seemed like a really needed program at this time," said Elizabeth Royal, a pharmacist at Belew Drug.
Royal said the pharmacy dispenses the drug to people who ask for it and may suggest it for people who are prescribed high amounts of pain medications or may be at risk for an overdose.
Pharmacists at Belew take the customer requesting Naloxone through a training that lasts about 20 minutes, Royal said. The training includes videos, and the person must take a quiz at the end to receive a certificate.
"Hopefully people can come to this area, and they can get the Naloxone or the Narcan or the Evzio, whichever product they decide to choose, and they may feel a little bit safer at home with that," Royal said.
Donna Towe, who lost her 29-year-old daughter Taygan to an overdose two years ago, has become an advocate for Naloxone following Taygan's death.
"She could have been saved the day she passed. If someone would have just called 911, it would have been that easy," Towe said. "Maybe it could have changed things."
Now Towe shares Taygan's story in hopes that it will prevent another family from losing a loved one.
"We've got to the point where it's kind of like having a fire extinguisher in your house," Towe said. "You need Naloxone in your house just like you need a fire extinguisher. It's that common nowadays."
10News spoke to other locally-owned pharmacies in East Tennessee and some do have plans to start their own Naloxone programs. CVS and Walgreens both offer the drug without a prescription in Tennessee.