Rates and Costs of Dispensing Naloxone to Patients at High Risk for Opioid Overdose in the United States, 2014-2018

Drug Saf. 2020 Jul;43(7):669-675. doi: 10.1007/s40264-020-00923-6.


Introduction: Clinical practice guidelines recommend co-prescribing naloxone to patients at high risk of opioid overdose, but few such patients receive naloxone. High costs of naloxone may contribute to limited dispensing.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate rates and costs of dispensing naloxone to patients receiving opioid prescriptions and at high risk for opioid overdose.

Methods: Using claims data from a large US commercial insurance company, we conducted a retrospective cohort study of new opioid initiators between January 2014 and December 2018. We identified patients at high risk for overdose defined as a diagnosis of opioid use disorder, prior overdose, an opioid prescription of ≥ 50 mg morphine equivalents/day for ≥ 90 days, and/or concurrent benzodiazepine prescriptions.

Results: Among 5,292,098 new opioid initiators, 616,444 (12%) met criteria for high risk of overdose during follow-up, and, of those, 3096 (0.5%) were dispensed naloxone. The average copayment was US$24.83 for naloxone (standard deviation [SD] 67.66) versus US$9.74 for the index opioid (SD 19.75). The average deductible was US$6.18 for naloxone (SD 27.32) versus US$3.74 for the index opioid (SD 25.56), with 94% and 88% having deductibles of US$0 for their naloxone and opioid prescriptions, respectively. The average out-of-pocket cost was US$31.01 for naloxone (SD 73.64) versus US$13.48 for the index opioid (SD 34.95).

Conclusions: Rates of dispensing naloxone to high risk patients were extremely low, and prescription costs varied greatly. Since improving naloxone's affordability may increase access, whether naloxone's high cost is associated with low dispensing rates should be evaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / economics
  • Analgesics, Opioid / poisoning*
  • Benzodiazepines / poisoning
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Costs
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naloxone / economics*
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / economics*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opiate Overdose / drug therapy*
  • Opiate Overdose / economics*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Naloxone