Some Pennsylvania lawmakers wary of expanding access to Narcan
The nasal spray Narcan has been credited with saving more than 1,000 Pennsylvanians from overdosing on heroin, but some state lawmakers are concerned that expanding its availability might encourage drug use.
With Narcan, “kids are having opioid parties with no fear of overdose,” Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, said Tuesday at a public hearing in the Allegheny County Courthouse conducted by a House-Senate task force exploring solutions to opioid abuse.
Advocates and medical professionals want to make Narcan — the trade name for naloxone—more accessible to the public, but some lawmakers expressed concerns that increased accessibility could inspire dangerous behavior.
“I can tell you, drug dealers are throwing Narcan parties,” said Rep. Daniel McNeill, D-Lehigh County.
Medical professionals disagreed that people will abuse the antidote.
“Anyone who has had the experience of being brought back by Narcan doesn’t want to go through that again,” said Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
In April 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all state police patrol cars would be equipped with two doses of Narcan. He has credited Narcan with saving more than 1,000 people across the state.
Some county police have rejected the idea of carrying the drug.
“I’m bewildered by the resistance to police carrying naloxone,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D- Squirrel Hill.
In May, Pennsylvania’s physician general ordered that anyone wanting to buy Narcan be allowed to do so without a prescription.
During the hearing Tuesday, advocates and medical professionals pushed for making Narcan more accessible to the public, including putting it in schools.
Public health experts told lawmakers that opioid painkillers often are a precursor to heroin use. When the user gets addicted and the habit becomes expensive, they often turn to heroin, they said.
The state is recommending that medical schools start teaching pain management differently and instructing doctors and dentists to prescribe fewer painkillers.
The state Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program will go online Aug. 25. It will allow medical professionals to track how many prescriptions a patient has to deter overprescribing of opioids.
But the program does have risks.
“If we get people off pills, we don’t want to drive them to the street,” said Dr. Latika Davis-Jones, administrator at Allegheny County’s Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
Max Siegelbaum is a Tribune-Review staff writer.