Southwest Airlines will start having naloxone on board in the event of an opioid overdose. Here's why health experts applaud the move.

Southwest is joining other airlines in stocking naloxone on board. (Getty Images)
Southwest is joining other airlines in stocking naloxone on board. (Getty Images)

Naloxone may be coming to a flight near you. The lifesaving medication, which rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, will now be carried on Southwest Airlines flights, according to a company spokesperson. With this move, Southwest joins other airlines like United and Alaska Airlines in having naloxone on board.

The change comes nearly a year after the Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray — Narcan — making it easily accessible to the masses.

The addition of naloxone to flights comes as Southwest is in the process of updating its onboard medical kits. “With customer safety and comfort at front of mind, Southwest is enhancing its onboard emergency medical kits above and beyond current Federal Aviation Administration requirements,” Chris Perry, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, tells Yahoo Life. The new kits that are being installed throughout the Southwest Airlines fleet over the course of 2024, Perry says, also feature an auto-injector dosage of epinephrine (a medication used in the event of a severe allergic reaction), as well as doses of ondansetron, a drug to relieve nausea.

The medical kits will also have enhanced first aid items, like a stethoscope designed to be used in loud environments, an electronic blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter and a glucose meter — but the naloxone is getting the most attention.

Why is this important?

The U.S. has been dealing with an opioid epidemic for years. While it’s not clear how many airline passengers have overdosed on flights, over 75% of the nearly 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021 involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, a man overdosed on a Southwest flight and received emergency medical care from fellow passengers until the flight could land, although there was no naloxone on board. The patient survived.

Stocking naloxone on flights “is a good idea,” Jamie Alan, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life. “There are really no significant side effects, and this medication could save someone’s life,” she says.

Dr. Jonathan Avery, vice chair of addiction psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, agrees. “Naloxone should be everywhere there are people,” he tells Yahoo Life. “This is part of the reason it was made available over the counter. There are already efforts to stock naloxone in schools, restaurants and bars and clubs, so it makes sense that these efforts are being expanded to airlines.”

All airlines should “definitely” carry naloxone, Dr. Lewis Nelson, chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. “Intranasal naloxone is an inexpensive, safe, effective and easy-to-use medication,” he says. “While rescue breathing works to keep people alive, it is hard to do for a prolonged period, and many will not do this maneuver on strangers given concerns over hygiene.”

Dr. Emily Kauffman, emergency medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, agrees that naloxone is easy to use. “It’s essentially a nasal spray,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Any flight attendant or passenger on a plane can give this medication. You really can’t mess it up.” Kauffman added, “If you’ve ever done a nose spray, you know how to do naloxone.”

While Kauffman says the move to include naloxone on flights is “about five years overdue,” she adds that this is “great news.”

“Naloxone is a lifesaving medication,” Kauffman says. “It should be placed anywhere there’s a defibrillator.” Avery urges people to learn how to use the medication just in case. “With the opioid epidemic continuing with record numbers of lives lost each year, we all need to be equipped to respond to an opioid overdose,” he says.