What Pennsylvanians Can Do to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is one of Pennsylvania’s leading public health issues. Opioid misuse has led to devastating consequences for the people who struggle with addiction, as well as their families and communities.

Every day, 10 Pennsylvanians die from drug overdoses. Since Jan. 1, 2018, there have been nearly 16,000 emergency department visits for opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania. Last year alone, the state recorded 4,413 overdose deaths.

Pennsylvania elected officials and health care systems like UPMC are diligently working to prevent, intervene in, and combat the opioid crisis. As a Pennsylvanian, there are ways that you can participate in these efforts.

Review this important information to help in the fight against the opioid crisis.

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone, or Narcan®, is a medicine that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid. When administered, naloxone can block opioid effects and restore breathing within minutes. Naloxone is safe to use and will only work when there is an opioid present in the body.

The two most common ways in which naloxone can be administered are:

  • Sprayed directly into the nose while the person is lying on his or her back.
  • Injected into a person’s thigh muscle (similar to using an EpiPen®).

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How Can I Access Naloxone?

Pennsylvanians can access naloxone in two ways:

  • A prescription from your doctor.
  • Pennsylvania standing order.

Pennsylvania standing order

Issued by Rachel Levine, MD, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health and physician general at the time, the Pennsylvania standing order is a public prescription for naloxone. To use the standing order, simply print it out or present a digital version of it to your pharmacy. Click here to download the standing order.

How to Administer Naloxone

The Pennsylvania Department of Health strongly advises that all Pennsylvanians review the instructions for delivering naloxone in order to respond properly in the event of an overdose. If you still have questions, talk to your health care provider and/or pharmacist.

There are also free online training programs on how to administer naloxone:

What to Do if Someone Is Overdosing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it may be difficult to tell if someone is overdosing. While you may be unsure, it is best to treat it as an overdose because you could save a life.

Signs someone has overdosed:

  • Blue lips and blue fingertips.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Gasping, snoring, or not breathing at all.
  • Shallow or slow breathing.
  • Unresponsive or unconscious.

What to do if you suspect someone has overdosed:

  1. Call 911.
  2. Administer naloxone, if available.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  5. Stay with the person until first responders arrive.

Can I get in trouble if I help someone who is overdosing?

By law, Pennsylvanians are protected from prosecution if they witness an overdose and act in good faith to help.

The Good Samaritan Law, Act 139, encourages members of the community, family members, and friends to call 911 if they witness an overdose. This law offers criminal and civil protections, so the witness can contact authorities on behalf of someone who has overdosed.

What UPMC Is Doing to Intervene and Where UPMC Stands on the Issue

The Pittsburgh region is among the hardest hit by the growing epidemic of opioid use disorder. For years, scientists and clinicians with UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences have brought together their expertise to explore the epidemic, care for the community, and prevent further deaths.

UPMC strives each day to combat the opioid epidemic. As part of its substance use response efforts, UPMC offers several services in the region:

Centers of Excellence

To help more individuals with substance use disorders get treatment sooner, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf introduced the Centers of Excellence for Opioid Use Disorder in 2016. A Center of Excellence is a primary care practice, hospital, or a substance use disorder treatment provider that offers optimal health care and treatment for those with substance use disorders.

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital are among the 45 locations in Pennsylvania named as Centers of Excellence by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

Recovery Engagement Program

The Recovery Engagement Program helps patients struggling with an opioid use disorder. It specializes in helping patients achieve recovery by using medicines to treat the opioid use disorder and providing ongoing behavioral counseling and social support.

Pregnancy Recovery Center at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

This outpatient recovery program at UPMC Magee provides pregnant women with comprehensive and compassionate care for an opioid addiction. The first and only program of its kind in the region, this center provides office-based treatment, behavioral health counseling, social services, and prenatal care to pregnant and postpartum women with an opioid use disorder.

SMART Choices Program

UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital launched the Screening Motivational Interviewing and Referring to Treatment (SMART) Choices Program to train pediatricians to identify the risks for developing a substance use disorder.

“At UPMC, we acknowledge the leadership of Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine and appreciate their consistent efforts to combat Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic,” says Scott Baker, UPMC vice president and chief government relations officer. “Because of them, Pennsylvania now has increased resources including a data dashboard that highlights prevention, rescue, and treatment efforts, 45 Centers of Excellence for Opioid Use Disorders locations, and expanded access to naloxone.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance use disorder, please call the national Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for more information about treatment resources.

For more information about UPMC Addiction Medicine Services, call 412-692-CARE (2273).

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.