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Naloxone to Combat Drug Overdoses

Because of changes to Good Samaritan laws and a standing order for naloxone, enacted in 2015, Pennsylvanians can often get the medication for free.

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Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose in the United States.

Pennsylvania’s Opioid Problem

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 44.3 people out of every 100,000 residents in Pennsylvania died from a drug overdose. Between 2016 and 2017, the state also experienced an increase in drug overdose deaths.

Across the U.S., most drug overdoses involve opioid abuse, particularly abuse of heroin and fentanyl. To combat this problem, many states are changing their Good Samaritan laws to allow pharmacies to dispense naloxone.

In Pennsylvania, naloxone is dispensed for free to anyone who wants or needs it. This program has been exceptionally popular.

Naloxone: Everyone in Pennsylvania Has Access, Thanks to Charities

As many states across the country worked to find ways to slow the rising tide of opioid overdose, Pennsylvania’s governor announced a naloxone standing order in 2015.

Before the opioid overdose epidemic spread across the country and began to kill over 100 people per day, on average, those who had access to naloxone were health care workers, like doctors, nurses, and emergency medical responders. In October 2015, the governor signed a statewide standing order for naloxone into law, so more people could access this overdose-reversing drug to help their loved ones.

Naloxone is a drug that temporarily and rapidly stops opioid overdoses. This substance is an opioid antagonist, meaning the chemical binds to opioid receptors in the brain, preventing opioid drugs like heroin, fentanyl, or oxycodone from binding to those locations. It also removes opioid drugs that are on the receptors, which reverses the drug’s effects, including overdose effects.

Naloxone can be given:

  • As an intravenous injection.
  • As an auto-injectable.
  • As a nasal spray.

Since the nasal spray has become more popular, more states are allowing wider access to this chemical. There are no known side effects from naloxone, other than feeling withdrawal from opioids not binding to neurons to induce a high.

The drug is not addictive. With an easy-to-use nasal spray, it is relatively safe to administer without medical training.

Naloxone’s effects often wear off before opioids have been metabolized out of the body, so it is important to know that overdose-reversing effects are temporary. You can administer naloxone, but you still need to call 911 for medical assistance.

Using naloxone can improve the person’s chances of survival, especially with potent opioids like fentanyl, which can lead to rapid overdoses.

The standing order essentially means that every Pennsylvanian has an ongoing prescription for this drug. If you have a driver’s license or proof of Pennsylvania residence, you can go into a pharmacy and get naloxone, with no questions asked. To access a copy of the standing order, you can search the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website.

Good Samaritan Laws

By giving all Pennsylvanians access to naloxone, anyone witnessing an overdose can become a “Good Samaritan.” This is part of changes related Good Samaritan laws, specifically Act 139. If you are associated with someone who is abusing drugs, you are not a suspect and you cannot be arrested on drug charges just for reporting the overdose to emergency medical services.

In the past, getting naloxone might have implicated someone in substance abuse, but now, law enforcement cannot use this information to detain or arrest you.

Insurance Coverage

Even in 2015, opioid abuse was the leading cause of accidental death, killing more people than car accidents. Pharmacists and your family doctor can both tell you how to administer naloxone to a loved one, once you get the prescription.

Your insurance company may vary regarding how they cover the cost of naloxone. Most will cover the cost, but they may not cover it upfront. They may reimburse you later, or they may cover different formulas or brands differently.

Because naloxone can cost money, with or without insurance coverage, many charities in the state are offering free naloxone. Many people who struggle with opioid abuse and addiction live in rural areas, so their access to pharmacies is limited. Too often, people who live in rural areas also struggle with employment, so being able to pay for naloxone can be challenging.

Charity Distribution of Naloxone

Charities that distribute naloxone have seen lines out the door because many people know someone struggling with opioid abuse or addiction. People have seen the toll opioid abuse takes on neighbors, those struggling with homelessness, or elderly adults. Some people need naloxone soon, but their local pharmacy does not have it.

As with other prescriptions, it may take a day or two to fill a naloxone prescription, even with the standing order. Many people take advantage of programs that offer naloxone for free, so they can keep a supply in case they see someone suffering an overdose.

Another charity, Prevention Point, offers naloxone to anyone via the standing order or another prescription, based on their ability to pay. Their “sliding scale” includes a free option for those struggling financially, but who need access to this lifesaving drug for themselves or a loved one.

Prevention Point has a drop-in center, testing and treatment clinics with general practitioners, and a syringe service program to prevent communicable diseases associated with intravenous drug abuse. They also offer training on how to use naloxone, including how to spot an overdose.

References

Drug Overdose Deaths. (June 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Governor Wolf Announces Naloxone Standing Order to Combat Heroin Epidemic (+ FAQs). (October 2015). Governor’s Office, An Official Pennsylvania Government Website.

What Is Naloxone? (April 2018). National Institute on Dug Abuse (NIDA).

Naloxone. Department of Health (DH), An Official Pennsylvania Government Website.

Naloxone for Community Members in Pennsylvania. PAStop.org.

In Pennsylvania, People Lined Up for Free Naloxone. (December 2018). NPR.

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