WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – It’s a distinction Pennsylvania is trying to shed: America’s leading state for drug overdoses. The Commonwealth stepped up its efforts to combat the staggering number of opioid abuse deaths. Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains the initiative and why one recovering addict says it can only help.
If Thursday’s response at the Kirby Health Center in Wilkes-Barre was any indication, there’s a mighty need for an opioid overdose reversal drug in the community. Armed with 72 kits of Narcan to be distributed for free, the facility handed them out at a rate of more than one per minute. “We hope that all 72 could prevent someone from dying,” said Wilkes-Barre City Health Department Director Hank Radulski.
Running out of the nasal spray form of naloxone in barely an hour, 96 additional kits arrived late in the afternoon. Mr. Radulski said, “I mean to have that kind of response, the need is out there and we have to do what we could to meet those needs.”
At roughly 80 health centers statewide, recipients ranging from emergency responders to drug abusers to someone who knows one, received a kit containing two doses of Narcan. Given in time, it can immediately reverse the effects of opioid overdose which killed some 5,400 Pennsylvanians in 2017. But will the Narcan distribution funded with nearly a half-million dollars in state money make a dent in the opioid crisis?
“I was revived on two separate occasions with three doses of naloxone being provided,” said Alexis Johnson from her Archbald home. She became hooked on powerful painkillers for injuries suffered in a 2008 car crash. Now three and a half years clean and a motivational speaker, she believes you can’t put a price on a life saved. “For a lot of people that don’t have the money to get the prescription for naloxone, it will save lives,” said Ms. Johnson. “I am living proof.”
She’d like to see tougher state laws requiring repeat naloxone patients undergo mandatory drug rehabilitation or face jail time but back at the Kirby Health Center the Narcan distribution is considered a critical step. “We definitely need more days like this without a doubt,” said Mr. Radulski.
Thursday’s distribution was part of the Wolf Administration’s initiative: Stop Overdoses in Pennsylvania: Get Help Now Week. This year alone, emergency medical services saved more than 9,000 Pennsylvanians using naloxone.