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Pa. Gov. Announces Naloxone Has Saved 1,000 Lives

June 14--When naloxone saved Chris Benedetto, from a fatal heroin overdose, he saw a glimpse of something he never knew he had: A future.

He had relapsed after two and a half hard years of abstinence. Death or continued use seemed like the only options. "At those points in my life, I couldn't see where I'd be today," said Mr. Benedotta, of Harrisburg, Pa., now over six years sober and getting ready to attend college at Shippensburg. "You guys saw what I couldn't at the time.

Mr. Benedetto, 31, spoke directly to the medics and law enforcement officers who saved his life from Harrisburg, where Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that the anti-overdose drug naloxone has reversed 1,000 overdoses since 2014. That September, his predecessor, Tom Corbett, signed Act 139, enabling first responders to carry the drug.

"We've saved 1,000 lives with naloxone," Mr. Wolf said. "That's 1,000 people [for whom] we've had the possibility of getting a cure, and addressing the fundamental problems they suffer from."

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis remembered sitting down with the governor on the second day of the administration to discuss Pennsylvania's overdose problem. He praised both the governor and law enforcement officers for taking an "enlightened and committed stance" on combating the epidemic, which kills seven Pennsylvanians every day.

Though drug addiction still carries stigma, efforts to combat the epidemic through treatment rather than law enforcement have increased with the recognition of how few it spares. Just a few minutes after a staff meeting, State Rep.Mike Vereb recalled, he received a call from his sister. She had found her son with a heroin needle in his arm: He had started using again,

"It hits all of us," Mr. Vereb said at today's press conference.

In October 2015, Mr. Wolf and Physician General Rachel Levine also signed a standing order requiring participating pharmacies to supply naloxone, also sold under the brand name Narcan, to anyone who asks. That law makes the anti-overdose drug available to the friends and family members of addicts, who are often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose.

Still, some who spoke at the event said that the state's efforts to make naloxone accessible do not go far enough. Pennsylvanians would not need a state-wide prescription to purchase the drug, York County District Attorney Tom Kearney pointed out, if the drug was made available over the counter.

Those who do not believe that law enforcement officers and pharmacies should provide naloxone, Mr. Kearney argued, must have never seen an overdose.

"They have never had to kneel over a dying teenage boy with a needle in his arm vacantly staring at the ceiling, desperately applying CPR while his mother cries," Mr. Kearney said.

Maia R. Silber: msilber@post-gazette.com

Copyright 2016 - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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