Science and Tech


First responders add opioid reversal nasal spray to fight overdoses

In addition to Narcan, sheriff's departments in at least three states have begun using another overdose reversal nasal spray called Opvee.
Posted at 4:51 PM, Apr 22, 2024

Jodi Barber has shared her son Jerrod’s story for more than a decade. He died in 2010 from a prescription overdose. He had an opioid in his system so dangerous that most of its formulations have been pulled from shelves since.

“It was preventable. That’s my big word. That’s my big message of the day. It was preventable. All these deaths are preventable,” said Barber.

She has since devoted much of her time to advocacy and education. Also, in the years since, tens of thousands more opioid overdose deaths have been largely driven by fentanyl.

The opioid drug overdose rate is increasing a little less than 3% year over year, according to the Biden administration. In 2023, part of an $8 billion package on overdose prevention included getting the drug reversal nasal spray Narcan out to the public.

Narcan, or the nasal spray naloxone, remains the standard opioid reversal drug. Sheriff's departments in at least three states have begun using another overdose reversal nasal spray called Opvee, or nalmefene. The FDA approved the drug for children over 12 and adults for health care and community use in 2023. 

In a study comparing the two opioid reversal drugs, researchers found a smaller dose of Opvee reversed a major overdose symptom, “respiratory depression” or failing breathing in five minutes on patients given a synthetic opioid. The research was funded by the drugmaker Opiant Pharmaceuticals with additional funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Body cam video from Deputy Allie Michaels with the Oakland County Sheriff in Michigan obtained by Scripps Station WXYZ shows how effective the drug is. Michaels tears open a pack of Obvi ready to administer it without a single second to lose, followed by chest compressions on a 30-year-old woman. 

“At two minutes and 27 seconds — no joke. I felt what I thought was a breath,” said Michaels. “That doesn’t happen with anything else I’ve ever used or administered. I administered a second dose after the 2.5 minutes, and about a minute later, this female took a deep breath, sat up and looked around and asked why we were all there.”

Opvee stays in the body’s system longer than naloxone, and may carry more side effects — including a higher chance of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Opvee is available by prescription and Narcan is available over the counter. Each drug costs under $100. 

Barber hopes the costs won’t stop the sprays from getting to those who may need them. “I can’t tell you honestly how many times I’ve shared my story, and I’ll never stop crying about it,” she said. “We need all these reversal agents. Not just Narcan, but we need all of the reversal agents to be available for the first responders.”