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Pharmacies across the state now can hand out the anti-overdose drug naloxone to individuals who do not have a prescription.

The state Department of Health issued a standing order on Thursday to allow the medication — which can reverse an opioid overdose — to be distributed this way.

Joseph Miner, the state Department of Health's executive director, said the order was intended to increase access to the drug.

"Opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented by timely administration of naloxone," he said.

It's a move vital to Utah, which is ranked fourth in the country for drug overdose deaths. The department states that six Utahns die each week from opioid overdoses.

In 2015 alone, there were 268 prescription opioid overdose deaths and 127 deaths due to illicit opioids, including heroin.

Concerned family members, friends and others have been able to legally obtain naloxone since 2014, but lawmakers have been building on that access in recent years.

This move by the department will make it that much easier to save the life of someone overdosing.

"Providing naloxone more quickly to the Utah public may be the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid use disorders," said Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce.

But Angela Stander, the department's prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator, said people still need to have naloxone on hand. It needs tobe administered within 10 minutes of an overdose to be effective.

"We're not saying that when an overdose happens you can run to a pharmacy," she said. "You need to be proactive: If you are at risk yourself for an overdose or at risk for witnessing one, it needs to be in your possession."

The department states that those at highest risk for an opioid overdose include those who are taking high doses of opioids for chronic pain management, those who have abused substances before and those who smoke cigarettes.

Pharmacies do not have to participate, but if they do, they are required to annually report the amount dispensed to the department.

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