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Pennsylvania Is Giving Out Free Naloxone To Combat Drug Overdoses

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Something unusual happened in the state of Pennsylvania yesterday. Officials there gave out free naloxone at about 80 locations across the state. This is a lifesaving medication that can revive someone during an opioid overdose. Sarah Boden of member station WESA went to a giveaway site in Pittsburgh.

SARAH BODEN, BYLINE: Volunteers sit on metal folding chairs and sip coffee as people arrive at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in search of free naloxone.

JOHN FRANZ: Hi. May I help you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah. I'm here to get a box of...

FRANZ: Sure.

BODEN: The day's only halfway done, yet volunteer John Franz estimates he's seen already 40 or 50 people.

FRANZ: Yeah, we've given away a lot of this. We've been through two large boxes, and we're working our way through the third.

BODEN: This naloxone is the nasal spray, which comes with a plastic applicator. Franz says it's really easy to administer.

FRANZ: Just squirt it in the nose.

BODEN: Pharmacies around Pittsburgh sell naloxone for between $75 and $170, so it's a big deal to get it for free. One person picking up naloxone is Brian. NPR's only using his first name because he's used drugs. Brian says he's four years in recovery but has friends who use opioids, some of whom have fatally overdosed.

BRIAN: Yeah, I've seen people die. It's not anything to - it's scary. It really is. They turn blue, and it's not - something you'll never forget.

BODEN: Mental health therapist Melissa Kuzmah (ph) is getting the medication for her office's emergency kit.

MELISSA KUZMAH: I think it's good for people to know that we're able to talk about those things and we're prepared if something were to happen.

BODEN: Some argue these resources are being thrown away on people who aren't interested in addressing their addictions. Shawn Wypych 24 and says he's been revived with naloxone seven times. He says he's grateful he's alive for his son and has now been in recovery for four months.

SHAWN WYPYCH: Eventually, like, a seed's going to be planted. Like, if the addict lives, like, there's going to be a time where something's going to click in their mind where it just doesn't work anymore. And sometimes it takes a couple times for that to happen.

BODEN: Pennsylvania ranks 12th in the country in the rate of fatal opioid overdoses, but Allegheny County has some good news. The number of people fatally overdosing decreased throughout 2017. Public health officials hope that the more people who have naloxone, the more people will be saved.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Boden in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOKIMONSTA'S "SMOKE AND MIRRORS")

MARTIN: This story is part of a reporting partnership with Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.