WASHINGTON, D.C. — Southwest Airlines is the latest commercial airline to announce it will carry naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, as part of its in-flight emergency medical kits.
Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is used to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is administered either through a nasal spray or injection. Naloxone does not affect someone who does not have opioids in their system.
U.S. Representative Brittany Petterson (CO-07), alongside Representatives David Trone (D-MD) and Jake Ellzey (R-TX), introduced legislation in May 2023 that would require all airlines to carry opioid overdose medication aboard planes.
“One thing we can do to save lives during this opioid crisis is ensure that naloxone, or similar overdose-reversal drugs, are available in as many places as possible, which should include commercial aircraft,” said Pettersen in a statement. “I introduced legislation last year to require airlines to include these lifesaving medications in their emergency kits, and I’m grateful that Southwest has decided to include them proactively. My mom wouldn’t be alive today without naloxone and increasing access to this medication can help us combat the opioid crisis, which has already claimed more American lives than all world wars combined.”
The bill is set to go through the committee process.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows more than 109,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2022. In a press release, Pettersen reported that the majority of deaths were related to opioids.
Southwest's emergency medical kits also include a stethoscope designed for loud environments, an electronic blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter and a glucometer. The new medical kits were first installed in December 2023, and the process will continue throughout 2024.
"With customer safety and comfort at front of mind, Southwest is enhancing its onboard emergency medical kits above and beyond current FAA requirements. The new kits, which are being installed throughout our fleet over the course of 2024, feature an auto-injector dosage of epinephrine, as well as doses of naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray and ondansetron (Zofran) tablets," said a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines in a statement.
Southwest joins United, Alaska, Delta, and American airlines in carrying naloxone on board.
Michael Massoni is the first vice president and operational safety chairperson for the Transport Workers Union Local 556.
“We are the union that represents the 21,000 plus flight attendants at Southwest Airlines," said Massoni, who has been a flight attendant for 40 years. “Transport Workers Union of America was very, very pivotal in lobbying to have this addition to our emergency medical kits, and the vehicle that we utilize to get that is the last FAA Reauthorization bill.”
Massoni believes with the prevalence of drug overdoses, carrying naloxone on airplanes will absolutely save lives.
“There are only certain parts of the kit that we're allowed to use without guidance of some sort," Massoni said, explaining how flight attendants are trained. "The Narcan is one of those items that we would enlist [after we] first try to enlist the help of a medical professional onboard the aircraft. And if all else fails and we could not secure one of those, then we could actually get permission to utilize that through what we call Stat MD, which is a medical service provider that's available to us on the aircraft.”
In 2018, the Association of Flight Attendants called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require naloxone in emergency medical kits. In 2020, the FAA said it "might be worthwhile" for airlines to "consider" having certain items like naloxone on hand.
Josh Lazarus, who lives in Pennslyvania, was on a Southwest flight to Florida last year when another passenger overdosed.
“Fear set in because I didn't know if this man was going to be able to live," Lazarus remembered.
Lazarus said other passengers were able to keep the man breathing for 45 minutes until the plane made an emergency landing. They were not able to find any naloxone on the plane.
“If not for the team of unbelievable people that were on that plane, that man would have died," said Lazarus.
Lazarus is thrilled that Southwest Airlines will soon have naloxone on all of their flights.
“It's full circle," Lazarus said. “The fact that they're making that commitment, it's going to save lives.”