Pharmacies in New York beginning Aug. 15 will be required to carry and dispense the medication naloxone without a prescription in order to counteract overdoses in the state as part of an order issued Thursday by Health Commissioner Mary Bassett. 

Naloxone is used to block the effects of opioids and can help a person regain consciousness and breathing. 

Bassett pointed to a "patchwork" of orders that have been meant to ease rules for naloxone distribution, including guidances issued by public health officials in New York City and Erie County. 

Some pharmacy chains have used their own distribution rules and the Department of Health. All told, the order issued Thursday covers 2,600 pharmacies statewide. 

Previously, many pharmacies had to apply individually to dispense naloxone without a prescription. 

"This is as close as we can get to naloxone being ‘over the counter’ without action being taken by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration," Bassett said. 

The effort to make naloxone as widely available as possible comes as overdose deaths have soared in New York and around the country since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the Department of Health found a record number of people died due to an overdose death in 2020. 

“Naloxone is a critical tool in addressing the overdose epidemic and has prevented thousands of overdose deaths across New York State,” Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said. “Making it easier to obtain this lifesaving medication will mean more individuals have a meaningful chance to receive services and supports to assist in improving their health."