The state nearly exhausted its supply of the heroin and opioid overdose-reversal medication dedicated for a free giveaway Thursday, with waitlists created in counties across the state.
An estimated 4,500 naloxone kits were distributed across 85 locationsincluding in Danville, Lewisburg, Selinsgrove and Sunbury. All four Valley locations ran out of the life-saving medication in two hours or less, according to Jenn Shirk, registered nurse and assistant bureau director of the Bureau of Community Health Services, Department of Health.
The department's press secretary, Nate Wardle, issued a press release that said 45 locations ran out by 3 p.m. Shirk worked at the Health Department location in Danville where 12 kits were distributed. A waitlist 10 names long formed with six hours remaining. The giveaway was to last from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. statewide.
"We are actually out of kits," Shirk said. "Whatever we have leftover," she added of the state's total supply, "we'll give away." Supplies were divvied up on a formula incorporating county population, recorded overdose deaths and emergency transports, Shirk said. She said the state began the day with 5,100 kits.
Wardle expected distribution counts for all locations to be released sometime Friday. "In some locations the demand was so high that counties worked to get additional naloxone to distribute, and that is making it difficult to determine the numbers," Wardle said.
Naloxone is more commonly known by the brand name Narcan. Use of the nasal spray is likened by medical professionals to CPR for those experiencing an overdose from heroin and opioids. The medication isn't a narcotic and can't be altered to get high. A standing order from Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine acts as a prescription for all Pennsylvanians to obtain naloxone at pharmacies. It's covered by health insurance and may require a copay.
State emergency medical personnel successfully used naloxone more than 9,000 times this year, according to Gov. Tom Wolf. Of that patient base, Wolf said 92 percent were subsequently treated at a hospital. Hospitals across Pennsylvania are encouraged to use a "warm handoff," encouraging patients to seek treatment for substance abuse and provide appropriate referrals.
"It is important that people are aware that they can also go to their local pharmacy on any day to get the overdose reversal medication naloxone," Levine said in a press release. "This medication reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and gives the patient a chance at recovery."
"We cannot get someone into treatment if they are dead," Gov. Tom Wolf is quoted in the same release. "Naloxone saves lives and we should all carry it because you never know when you will get the chance to help someone."
Wolf signed a heroin and opioid disaster declaration in January. According to the governor's office, 16 state agencies have worked to address what's been deemed an epidemic in a variety of ways: the naloxone giveaway, waiving birth certificate fees for individuals seeking treatment, using federal Medicaid funding in treatment facilities to provide more than 12,000 individuals access to medically necessary treatment, providing career services to people who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic and plan to return to work.