ABOVE PHOTO: Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health opened a Narcan Near Me tower at the Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library. Narcan Near Me towers allow people to get life-saving naloxone and other overdose reversal supplies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anonymously, and for free. This is the first of two towers to be installed in Philadelphia, and the first in a major U.S. city.
“We have lost too many Philadelphians to the overdose crisis,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “That’s why we are trying new and novel ideas to help save lives. The Narcan Near Me Towers from Dispension, Inc. are exactly the type of bold response that we need. With these Towers, we can ensure that life-saving naloxone is available 24 hours a day in areas that need it.”
In 2020, Philadelphia recorded 1,214 overdose deaths. Overdose deaths in Black, non-Hispanic Philadelphians rose by nearly 30%, Hispanic Philadelphians by 1.1%, while White Philadelphians experienced a nearly 10% drop in overdose deaths compared to 2019.In the first six months of 2021, the Health Department recorded 582 overdose deaths, putting the city on track for its worst year in overdose deaths, and it is expected that the changing demographics will continue.“Since 2017, Philadelphia has been fighting rising overdose deaths due to the spread of fentanyl in the heroin being sold in the city,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. “West Philly is one of the places that has been hardest hit by the fact that fentanyl can potentially be in any drug. We need to take action today. We need to make sure that people here in West Philly have free, easy access to Narcan today. That’s why we’re here today: because we found a new and innovative way to start to get Narcan into West Philly.”
The program called Narcan Near Me is part of the Health Department’s harm reduction and overdose response program. The tower acts as a locker, containing 22 overdose prevention kits which can be accessed by tapping the touch screen on the front of the device. In the case of an emergency, the kiosk can connect directly to 911. Each kit contains two doses of Narcan, gloves, face shields, and a visual aid on how to administer the medication.
An optional survey collects data about tower users, and the touch screen provides important public health messaging and overdose awareness information. The kiosks will be located in two places in West Philadelphia, with plans to expand the program to additional locations.
In Canada, Dispension’s harm reduction kiosks have facilitated more than 10,000 pickups throughout the country, as part of a government-funded program to prevent overdoses and reduce crime. This new partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health is the first of its kind in the United States.
“Our technology is built to provide a multitude of healthcare solutions and we have proven success in the response to the overdose crisis,” Dispension, Inc. CEO Corey Yantha says. “We know the stigma associated with harm reduction sometimes prevents people from accessing life-saving medications from pharmacies or outreach programs. These machines make Narcan immediately accessible in a safe and secure way, empowering those who need it.”
“Within the Library system, there have been over 54 reported incidents concerning overdoses,” said Free Library of Philadelphia President and Director Kelly Richards. “Free Library staff members account for 41% of the times Narcan was administered. The administration of Narcan has helped many of our community members by reversing the effects of an opioid-related overdose. Having a Narcan Near Me tower outside our library is a special opportunity to provide no-cost Narcan to those experiencing overdoses and help save lives.”
Naloxone, brand name Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that can block a person’s opioid receptors and stop an overdose. It is non-addictive and cannot be used to get high. In 2020, more than 60,000 doses of naloxone were given to community organizations, first responders, and criminal justice organizations. More than 21,000 doses were purchased at pharmacies by Medicaid beneficiaries in Philadelphia.
“No one chooses to become addicted to opioids. No one chooses to overdose,” said State Representative Rick Krajewski. “A person can choose to take a path towards treatment, towards recovery, but that person cannot walk that path alone. The opioid epidemic is no longer just a white American issue – in 2020, drug overdoses amongst Black and Brown people rose while white overdoses went down,” Krajewski stated. “My hope is that the installation of this Narcan tower can be a start of not only harm reduction, but also the start of a conversation of what else needs to change if we’re going to beat the opioid crisis.”
The Health Department provides information on naloxone at: https://www.phillynaloxone.org. This page includes information on how you can get naloxone for free through NEXTDistro, what pharmacies stock naloxone, and the ability to sign up to receive free overdose reversal training.