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Advocates in Utah have been trying to get more naloxone kits into the hands of the public and police officers in recent years.

SALT LAKE CITY — Pharmacists in Utah can now distribute naloxone, a life-saving overdose reversal drug, without a prescription.

Utah Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Joseph Miner signed the statewide standing order Thursday. Miner said his intent is to increase access to the drug for people who may be at risk of overdose or in a position to help.

The order is the result of an initiative championed by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who sponsored a bill last year to authorize the health department and Utah Department of Commerce to make a standing prescription drug order.

“Lots of people will have a second chance at life,” Eliason said. "If they don't survive the overdose, there's no opportunity to get into treatment and step out of substance abuse."

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is safe and legal. The drug is administered nasally or intramuscularly and reverses prescription painkiller and heroin overdoses by kicking opiates off of receptors in the brain and restoring breathing.

There is no potential for abuse, and side effects are rare.

Emergency responders have used naloxone for years. Advocates in Utah have been trying to get more naloxone kits into the hands of the public and police officers in recent years.

An organization called Utah Naloxone has distributed thousands of kits to the public since it was founded in 2015.

Utah ranks fourth in the nation for drug overdose deaths, according to the state health department. Six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses.

Last year, 268 Utahns died from prescription painkiller overdoses, 127 died from illegal opioids such as heroin, and 10 died from a combination of both.

It's not mandatory for physicians to participate in the standing order. Those who do dispense naloxone under the standing order are required to report to the health department how many doses they distribute.