Pa. Department of Health distributes free naloxone to assist in opioid treatment

Paul Kurtz
September 25, 2019 - 4:45 pm
Pa. Deputy Health Secretary Ray Barishansky and members of the Alternative Response Unit discuss the state's push to boost opioid treatment efforts.

Paul Kurtz/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Wolf administration provided free naloxone at nearly 100 locations throughout the state on Wednesday, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health officials who were in Philadelphia to give a progress report on the war on opioids. 

In 2018, Pennsylvania's EMS Naloxone Leave Behind Program distributed more than 7,000 free kits during the first "Stop Overdoses in PA: Get Help Now Week." That number is expected to be even higher this year. According to Deputy Health Secretary Ray Barishansky, naloxone is the No. 1 opioid treatment tool for first responders and people in the community. 

"Sometimes it's minutes that can save a life and it's members of the public who are there to take advantage of those minutes," said Barishansky. "That's why the administration is providing naloxone to members of the public for free, no questions asked."

In Philly, more than 2,000 naloxone kits have been made available since last year, through fire and police departments, libraries and SEPTA. On top of that, a new program launched in the spring appears to be yielding promising results. The Alternative Response Unit (AR-2) goes into the heart of Kensington to first save lives, then encourage those who've overdosed to get treatment.  

"The first thing I realized was we have to build trust with them," said Tiesha Thomas, a paramedic with the AR-2 unit. "We had to build trust and now we have that trust. They know who we are. Some of them know us by first name basis. Once we got that rapport with them, we have gotten a lot of people into treatment."

Since its launch, the AR-2 unit has responded to more than 200 incidents and left behind at least 180 naloxone kits.

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Correction: In a previous version, KYW Newsradio incorrectly identified Tiesha Thomas as Tiesha Stewart. 

Related: Wolf administration pledges continued efforts in fight against opioids