(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday recommended prescribing or co-prescribing the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, to high-risk patients.

The agency’s recommendation comes a day after an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) narrowly recommended prescribing the drug, along with addictive painkillers.

The agency’s guidance underscores concerns about the growing opioid overdose epidemic that claimed more than 49,000 American lives last year.

“Given the scope of the opioid crisis, it’s critically important that healthcare providers and patients discuss the risks of opioids and how naloxone should be used in the event of an overdose,” Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health and senior advisor for opioid policy at HHS, said https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/sites/default/files/2018-12/naloxone-coprescribing-guidance.pdf in a statement.

The FDA panel on Tuesday voted 12-11 in favor of labeling changes for opioids that recommend co-prescribing the overdose antidote, concluding a two-day discussion on ways to make the potentially life-saving drug readily available.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids, including stopped or slowed breathing, the HHS said.

(Reporting by Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel)