A new, easy-to-use medication has been approved to reverse overdoses brought on by fentanyl and other opioids.
Similar to other life-saving medications like naloxone, Opvee is effective in countering overdoses of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers.
During an opioid overdose, both medications work by blocking the effect opioids have on the brain by restoring normal breathing and blood pressure.
The drug will be available to patients 12 and older as an injectable or nasal spray.
In studies funded by the federal government, Opvee proved to be as effective as Narcan, the leading brand of naloxone nasal spray.
Some patients might need multiple doses of naloxone spread out over several hours to completely reverse an overdose since fentanyl remains in the bloodstream longer than heroin and other opioids.
An NIH-led research team worked with pharmaceutical researchers to develop a nasal spray version of nalmefene that would resuscitate users while preventing relapse.
“The whole aim of this was to have a medication that would last longer but also reach into the brain very rapidly,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
All opioid reversal medications have the unwanted side effect of inducing severe withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, cramping in the muscles, and anxiety, which could persist for up to 30-40 minutes.
According to Dr. Lewis Nelson of Rutgers University, these problems can last for six hours or more with nalmefene, requiring additional management and treatment.
“The risk of long-lasting withdrawal is very real and we try to avoid it,” said Nelson.
In the event that naloxone wears off, Nelson said a second or third dose can be given.
“We’re not suffering from a naloxone shortage where we need to use an alternative,” he said. “We have plenty of it and it works perfectly well.”
According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths increased last year following the pandemic.
In 2022, there were more than 109,000 fatal overdoses recorded.