health

Pa. to equip State Police, others in fighting overdoses

Tom Wolf

Updated: Monday, April 6, 2015, 1:07 AM

Gov. Wolf: We must keep our communities safe and healthy. Saving lives by preventing overdoses will help law enforcement and local governments do just that.

In too many areas of our state, the disease of addiction has devastating impacts that reverberate across health, public safety, and the quality of life in Pennsylvania neighborhoods. Every day, opioid drug abuse destroys lives and families, and the heroin and prescription drug trades wreak havoc on communities.

Unfortunately, another heartbreaking reality for the loved ones of those battling addiction is the prospect of a fatal overdose. Our current system of drug treatment and rehabilitation too often prioritizes penalization over intervention and treatment.

We must keep our communities safe and healthy. Saving lives by preventing overdoses will help law enforcement and local governments do just that.

A government that works protects and helps its most vulnerable. Across the country, law enforcement, first responders, and emergency medical professionals are now carrying naloxone, a life-saving medicine that reverses opioid overdoses. I'm proud to announce that for the first time, the Pennsylvania State Police will carry naloxone kits in their patrol cars and be able to administer the drug through a nasal spray.

Last November, David's Law went into effect in the commonwealth with bipartisan support. The law allowed naloxone to be administered by law enforcement officials and firefighters, most often the first responders in instances of drug overdoses. The law also allows naloxone to be prescribed to a friend or family member who may be at risk of finding a loved one who has overdosed.

I have directed Physician General Rachel Levine to write a "standing order" for naloxone for the commonwealth. It will act as a prescription that allows every Pennsylvania citizen to get this medication.

I'm committed to working with the state police, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and the Department of Health to fully implement David's Law. Further, my proposed 2015-16 budget includes funding for the Department of Human Services to provide naloxone kits to first responders, local drug and alcohol programs, and others across the state.

This shared commitment extends to the private sector as well. Major insurance companies, including Geisinger, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Health Partners, and Aetna, have partnered with my administration to provide funding to supply both state and local police with naloxone. These organizations understand the immediate benefit of equipping every state patrol car in the commonwealth with a naloxone kit.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971 and has been used successfully in emergency rooms and ambulances for decades. At least 188 community-based overdose prevention programs across the country now distribute naloxone. As of 2010, those programs had provided training and naloxone to more than 50,000 people, resulting in more than 10,000 overdose reversals.

Delaware County has proven to be a model in implementing David's Law. By the beginning of this year, naloxone was present in every police vehicle and all police were trained in how to administer the drug, and John J. Whelan, the county's district attorney, has led efforts to increase coordination with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Since the enactment of this law, at least 30 lives have been saved through the use of this medication in Delaware County.

Clearly, the benefits of naloxone cannot be denied. This non-narcotic and nonaddictive prescription drug not only prevents deaths from overdoses caused by heroin and other opioids like oxycodone and Percocet, but it also further empowers first responders to continue doing what they do every day - save lives.

My administration is committed to ensuring that first responders have access to naloxone and are also trained in how to administer it. In addition, we want them to have the tools to educate the loved ones of those addicted to opioids on how naloxone can be used in emergency situations.

As we continue to advance substance-abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment to curb the heroin and prescription drug epidemic, we need more tools to address addiction. There is much to be done, but by getting naloxone into the hands of those who can prevent overdoses, we are saving lives and advancing the fight against opioid abuse.

Tom Wolf is the governor of Pennsylvania. governor@pa.gov

Tom Wolf

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