Gov. Tom Wolf signed a statewide standing order to give all Pennsylvanians a prescription to Naloxone. Residents can now walk into a state pharmacy and request the life-saving treatment.
How do you measure the economics of a life?
In more indirect terms, that was the question posed by a pharmacist to Councilman Bobby Henon and several other officials at a pharmacy in the Northeast.
It was the seventh or eighth pharmacy Henon had visited on Nov. 30. He and state Rep. Ed Neilson were educating and asking pharmacists if they carried Naloxone (often branded as Narcan), a medication able to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
In late October, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a statewide standing order that gave all Pennsylvanians a prescription to Naloxone, eliminating the need for a doctor’s prescription. This means any state resident should be able to walk into a state pharmacy and request the potentially life-saving treatment.
“You’re not in trouble, we’re just here to talk to you,” Henon joked as he introduced himself to various pharmacists. Also present on the ride were Allison Herens and James Garrow from the Philadelphia Department of Health and Mary Coco from Prevention Point, along with several others.
After exchanging information, they would hand out posters displaying information for how to obtain Naloxone for anyone who may be affected by opioids in their life, whether it was directly or for family members, friends, or just to have in case.
The ride had been productive, but fairly uneventful up until a certain point. The first six or seven pharmacies visited had confirmed they offered Naloxone, with the norm being the pharmacy would order some for the customer to pick up within a few days tops.
The first pharmacy that did not offer Naloxone was part of a large chain of pharmacies that does not allow its employees to be named and quoted in media without permission from corporate.
“How does the city win economically [by carrying it]?” the pharmacist asked.
He backed off quickly when Henon and others explained that saving opioid addicts was more about saving a life than saving money, but the implication was clear.
Prejudice exists against those picking up the treatment from pharmacies. Just ask Mary Doherty of CORA Services, who recounted how she was judged when trying to pick up Narcan at a local pharmacy during a demonstration the service center hosted last month.
Not all stops were as down spirited. Immediately after leaving the pharmacy that did not offer the treatment, Holmesburg Pharmacy at 8039 Frankford Ave. told Henon about its Naloxone information sessions. Once a month, interns at the pharmacy handed out information and answered questions about the treatment to anyone who asked.
The pharmacist said through these sessions, they see people interested in the treatment and often receive follow-up phone calls.
Henon said his office had been receiving many calls from people seeking help on how to help a loved one deal with their addiction to heroin or opioids.
“We’ve gotten calls from a mother in distress fearing their child is addicted to some sort of opioid and not knowing how to get help,” he said. “We would try to consult someone emotionally distressed while trying to figure out how to connect them with any immediate help.”
Most pharmacists said they had seen a recent uptick in requests for Naloxone, especially after the standing order was signed. One pharmacist wagered the uptick may be due to a lack of knowledge and coverage about the treatment until the recent standing order.
The number of requests varied per pharmacy, with some saying they get several a week, and others saying only a few a month. (The pharmacy that did not carry said no one had ever come in and asked for it.)
“It mostly came about in the past year,” said Christopher O’Neill, a pharmacist at Circle Pharmacy LLC at 2853 Holme Ave., which carries the treatment. “Now we see patients who are on opioids are recommended they get one [bottle] in their bag before leaving.”
The winter months are particularly difficult for addicts. Studies show that nearly 220 of the 900 drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia in 2016 happened in November and December. Opioids were found in more than 80 percent of drug-related deaths that year.
Potential causes may be shorter sunlight hours, colder weather and, most prominently, loneliness during the holiday season.
Neilson recently co-introduced a House bill aiming to further prohibit subscribing minors to opioid treatments. Studies show that almost three-quarters of 18- to 30-year-olds admitted to substance use disorder treatment programs began using substances when they were 17 or younger.
Despite the prejudice of some, there are options to obtain the treatment in the Northeast. Pharmacies that do offer Naloxone include Circle Pharmacy, Holmesburg Pharmacy, the Rite Aid at 9200 Frankford Ave., the Walgreens at 8828 Frankford Ave., Deluxe Pharmacy at 8749 Frankford Ave. and the CVS at 8525 Frankford Ave., to name just a few. ••