Where’s the Narcan? At pharmacies across the U.S., the OTC antidote can be hard to find

It was a glimmer of hope amid America’s raging opioid epidemic. Narcan, the nasal spray that can almost instantaneously reverse a potentially deadly opioid overdose, was going to be available over the counter in stores, easy to find and easy to buy.

With the proliferation of fentanyl in the illegal drug supply, overdose deaths in the U.S. had reached alarming rates and most efforts to stop the crisis were failing.

Narcan needed to be more readily accessible for anyone who might need it to save a friend or even a stranger.

In a long-awaited move, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the antidote for over-the-counter use in March 2023, and in September the $45 two-dose boxes were shipped across the country. Prior to that, Narcan, or naloxone nasal spray, was distributed for free at community health centers and was also available via prescription.

Has the rollout lived up to the early excitement?

NBC News visited 64 stores in 15 states and Washington, D.C., over three weeks in February looking for over-the-counter Narcan, including major chain drug stores, independent pharmacies, supermarkets, big-box chains, convenience stores and gas stations.

Stores around the country stocked the bright-pink Narcan boxes in different locations: on display on the pharmacy counter; in the pain medication aisle; behind the pharmacy counter; or behind the front register. Some were easy to spot and access. Other times, a customer would have to hunt or ask for help.

In a CVS Pharmacy in a Target outside of Pittsburgh, Narcan was spotted in a locked case on a shelf marked “Covid tests.”

In a Walgreens in Atlanta, it was on the top shelf in a theft-resistant box, obscured by a large metal pole in the aisle.

At a Publix pharmacy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Narcan display sat on the pharmacy counter, but it was nearly obscured by a placard warning parents to lock up their medications and pamphlets advertising “Pet meds for less.”

Most major drugstores and big-box store pharmacies NBC News visited carried Narcan, but none of the convenience stores or gas stations did.

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