Effectiveness and Implementability of State-Level Naloxone Access Policies

Expert Consensus from an Online Modified-Delphi Process

Published in: International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 98 (December 2021, 103383. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2021.103383

Posted on RAND.org on January 25, 2022

by Rosanna Smart, Sean Grant

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Background

Naloxone distribution, a key global strategy to prevent fatal opioid overdose, has been a recent target of legislation in the U.S., but there is insufficient empirical evidence from causal inference methods to identify which components of these policies successfully reduce opioid-related harms. This study aimed to examine expert consensus on the effectiveness and implementability of various state-level naloxone policies.

Methods

We used the online ExpertLens platform to conduct a three-round modified-Delphi process with a purposive sample of 46 key stakeholders (advocates, healthcare providers, human/social service practitioners, policymakers, and researchers) with naloxone policy expertise. The Effectiveness Panel (n = 24) rated average effects of 15 types of policies on naloxone pharmacy distribution, opioid use disorder (OUD) prevalence, nonfatal opioid-related overdoses, and opioid-related overdose mortality. The Implementation Panel (n = 22) rated the same policies on acceptability, feasibility, affordability, and equitability. We compared ratings across policies using medians and inter-percentile ranges, with consensus measured using the RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method Inter-Percentile Range Adjusted for Symmetry technique.

Results

Experts reached consensus on all items. Except for liability protections and required provision of education or training, experts perceived all policies to generate moderate-to-large increases in naloxone pharmacy distribution. However, only three policies were expected to yield substantive decreases on fatal overdose: statewide standing/protocol order, over-the-counter supply, and statewide "free naloxone." Of these, experts rated only statewide standing/protocol orders as highly affordable and equitable, and unlikely to generate meaningful population-level effects on OUD or nonfatal opioid-related overdose. Across all policies, experts rated naloxone prescribing mandates relatively lower in acceptability, feasibility, affordability, and equitability.

Conclusion

Experts believe statewide standing/protocol orders are an effective, implementable, and equitable policy for addressing opioid-related overdose mortality. While experts believe many other broad policies are effective in reducing opioid-related harms, they also believe these policies face implementation challenges related to cost and reaching vulnerable populations.

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