Makers of overdose antidote visit Pittsburgh to raise awareness about drug
An Eastern Pennsylvania company has enlisted local doctors in a campaign to raise awareness about the life-saving drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of a drug overdose, as an opioid epidemic continues to kill people across Pennsylvania at alarming rates.
Last year, 5,456 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Allegheny County was hard hit with 737 overdose deaths in 2017, according to Overdose Free Pa.
Adapt Pharma, based in Radnor, has launched TV ads in Pittsburgh and seven other selected market areas, targeting prescription opioids and advising people about the availability of naloxone, commonly known by its brand name Narcan, in local pharmacies, according to Thom Duddy, vice president of corporate communications. Duddy and Dr. Michael Lunch, an emergency room doctor for UPMC and medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center in Oakland, urged people who have concerns about friends or family members using opioids to carry naloxone.
“Really it’s about the people who are concerned about their loved ones who are taking these prescription opioids and their concern that they may overdose,” Duddy said.
Noting that many overdoses occur in the home, Duddy said, “Truly the first responder now is someone like you or I.”
During the first seven months of this year, 368,000 opioid prescriptions were issued in Pittsburgh, which has a population of about 304,000, according to Duddy. Lynch said it’s not an indication of widespread drug abuse, but gives an idea of local opioid use and includes people suffering from chronic diseases who might receive multiple prescriptions.
Adapt Pharma makes an easy-to-use applicator that dispenses Narcan in a nasal spray. You insert it in a patient’s nose, push a plunger and it dispenses 0.1 milliliters of naloxone. The drug usually takes effect in a few minutes.
Two applicators come in a package, which retails for $90 to $125, but Duddy said most insurance companies will cover the cost. Pennsylvanians can get naloxone in any pharmacy without a prescription under a standing order issued by state Physician General Rachel Levine.
Lynch said naloxone is not harmful.
“If you don’t take opioids and I spray that in your nose nothing bad will happen to you,” he said. “If you’re passed out and maybe not breathing, and I don’t know why, unfortunately there’s a decent chance it’s because of an opioid, and if I spray that in your nose it could be the difference between dying and living.”
He advises people who have concerns about someone they know overdosing on opioids to carry the drug.
“Even though our responders — EMS, police, firefighters — get there fairly quickly, the average response time is about 12 to 13 minutes in Allegheny County,” Lynch said. “That time, that difference could be the difference between permanent brain injury and death. Making sure that people are able to have something available to give that might reverse that, I think, is really important.”
Duddy said Adapt Pharma targeted Pittsburgh and the other areas because naloxone is available and affordable, local pharmacies stock it and the cities have problems with opioid overdoses. The other cities include Augusta, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Salt Lake City and Tucson, Ariz.
Duddy said the company had no profit motive in the awareness campaign.
“We talked to parents, and we talked to spouses and they were completely unaware that there was a product like this that they could get and have in their home and give them peace of mind,” he said. “That’s why we felt more of a responsibility to do it.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.