LOWER PAXTON TWP., Pa. -- Naloxone, the life-saving medicine designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and revive and overdose victim, is now more available in Pennsylvania than ever before.
Governor Tom Wolf and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, along with health and human service directors from the governor's cabinet, signed and announced the governor's standing order on Naloxone on Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Medical Society building. Doctor Levine's signature acts as a prescription for any Pennsylvanian to buy the drug "over-the-counter" at pharmacies across the commonwealth.
Major pharmacies, such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS have been made aware of the standing order, and smaller pharmacies, which may not have as easy of access to the drug, are in the process of being notified, Dr. Levine says.
"We're here because we recognize Pennsylvania has a problem," Wolf said. "We must do all that we can to support those Pennsylvania families suffering from the effects of addiction."
Governor Wolf's cabinet each echoed that heroin addiction and prescription drug abuse has become a public health crisis in Pennsylvania, and "the worst epidemic of our time." Statistics show one in four Pennsylvania families suffer from the effects of substance abuse, and seven people in the commonwealth die as a result of addiction every day. Heroin and opioid overdose, more specifically, are now the leading causes of accidental death in Pennsylvania, with 2,400 people dying from drug overdoses in 2014.
"This is one piece of the puzzle," Dr. Levine said. "If it saves a life, that is tremendous, but then people need to be brought to get emergency treatment.
For emergency responders like Dr. Daniel Bledsoe of Pinnacle Health's Life Alert team, the ability for someone to have Naloxone standing by in their home in case of an emergency could mean the difference between life and death.
His EMS team in the Harrisburg area responds to drug overdoses every week, he says. There are times, however, getting to more rural locations throughout South Central Pennsylvania is tedious. Time lost can mean lives lost.
"What happens when you overdose on opioids is you stop breathing. You have four to six minutes before permanent damage occurs," Dr. Bledsoe says.
"The ability for a mother to have something in her house where she can rescue her child, when seconds count, is very important."
Major pharmacies across the state have been made aware of the standing order on Naloxone and can begin selling it as soon as possible, Dr. Levine says. Participation, however, is voluntary. Money for the drug would normally come from Pennsylvania's Departments of Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Abuse, but with the budget impasse keeping those funds unavailable, Governor Wolf says Naloxone is being made available through health care providers and donations.
There are two types of naloxone for purchase; an epipen-type injection which Dr. Bledsoe estimates could cost up to $500, and a nasal spray which Dr. Levine estimates would cost around $40 per dose at a pharmacy. She suggests for the nasal spray, taking two doses at a time.
However, just because you can reverse a heroin overdose at home, doesn't mean you should avoid checking into a hospital. Both Dr. Bledsoe and Physician General Levine are adamant in making sure 9-1-1 is called immediately.
"You need to get us on the road in case it's not enough medicine to reverse the overdose," Bledsoe said.