State mulls more naloxone handouts after strong demand

"People have to be alive to get the help that they need. It gives people a chance to choose recovery again."

  • Katie Meyer
  • Brett Sholtis

(Harrisburg) — The commonwealth is considering holding more mass giveaways of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, after finding even more demand than officials had planned for at a recent event.

The state had 5,000 packages of naloxone on hand to distribute Thursday.

But, it ended up giving out over 1,000 more than that.

Naloxone was handed out at 80 locations around the state for a full day, and the Health Department said by the time afternoon hit, many spots had already run dry.

Among those who stood in line was David Braithwaite, who stopped by the Cumberland County health center.

As it says on his hat, he’s a chaplain for something called Carlisle Truck Stop Ministry. Braithwaite says he and another chaplain minister seven days a week to truck drivers, homeless people and anyone else who shows up and needs help.

He was one of a half-dozen people who got to the health center at least a half hour before it opened.

The 66-year-old retired postal service employee is friendly and talkative, but his cheerful demeanor changes when he starts talking about drug addiction.

“We have had a number of individuals who have passed away from overdose,” he says. “Young people. It is so frustrating and so heart-wrenching.”

The self-described conservative pragmatist says he has mixed feelings about handing out naloxone to revive people who have had a drug overdose.

However, he knows of at least one person at the truck stop who was revived by naloxone. He says, if he might be able to save someone’s life, he wants to be ready to do it.

Joining him in at the center was 28-year-old Brittney Webster, who has been in recovery for six years, after a 30-day inpatient rehab and a lot of work. She works as a residential coordinator at The RASE Project, a nonprofit inspired by mental health advocacy groups that aims to help people who are recovering from addictions.

Webster says naloxone is so important to her, she plans to drive to another location, in Harrisburg, to get more. She plans to give it out to people in the recovery community who she meets through the RASE Project.

When asked about why she showed up, she starts to tear up–thinking of all the people she knew who died of drug overdoses.

Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press

FILE PHOTO: A Narcan nasal device, which delivers naloxone, lies on a counter.

“People have to be alive to get the help that they need,” she says. “So, that’s what this is. It gives people a chance to choose recovery again.”

Health Department Spokeswoman April Hutcheson said some counties dug into extra supplies, either from previous state distribution efforts, or from their own resources.

In total, 6,105 packages went out, each with two doses inside. Sites in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia led the pack, giving out 926 and 1,027, respectively.

Hutcheson noted, there is a standing order to prescribe naloxone to any Pennsylvanian, so many people who missed the give-out can still get the drug cheaply whenever they want.

“You can go to any pharmacy and get naloxone using your insurance,” she said. “It would be covered — most insurers are covering it at little to no cost.”

The state has $5 million to spend over two years for naloxone.

Hutcheson said the department is tentatively planning more events.

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