Amid rise in overdoses, Bucks County begins walk-in nalaxone trainings

    (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

    (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

    In the wake of a spike in overdose deaths across the region, Bucks County officials are trying to make it easier to get the overdose-reversing drug nalaxone. Starting this week, the county’s drug and alcohol commission has walk-in hours, where people can stop in for a private, one-on-one training with prevention specialist, Mallory Showalter.

    “We certainly want everyone to feel comfortable, very comfortable, using this medication when they leave this office. That’s, I think, our No. 1 goal,” said Showalter.

    Nalaxone can be lifesaving because, in those critical moments before help arrives, it can reverse a potentially fatal overdose on the spot. The rescue kits are available at pharmacies, but a two-pack can cost around $75. The commission is giving them out for free.

    Bucks County has experienced more than 100 overdose deaths this year. There isn’t a part of the county that isn’t affected, said Diane Rosati, longtime head of the county’s drug and alcohol commission.

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    “Certainly in Bucks County, we found ourselves geographically within the perfect storm of neighboring Philadelphia, whose heroin is among the least expensive and where purity is among the highest, as well as Allentown and Trenton,” she said. “So we’re in a corridor where it is so easily accessible.”

    Rosati often hears stories of people taking a legitimate prescription, developing an addiction, and then turning to heroin. The commission has organized community meetings and trainings. In the last few weeks, though, reports of several more overdose deaths in a short period of time — about eight, according to one news report  — prompted her commission to try something new with these walk-in trainings.

    They’re being held on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. out of their Warminster office. Rosati said she wasn’t sure how this first day of walk-ins would go and whether anyone would show up to their suburban office.

    They did.

    “At some point during this morning, all four of us were busy with community residents,” she said, referring to herself and some back-up staff, as 15 people visited the office.

    “The common thread is a concern for their loved one,” Rosati said, when asked what brought people in that first day. “The majority of folks happen to have children, adult children, who have an addiction to opioids and an overriding concern of just wanting to make sure that they support them, provide them the resources, and have something to save their lives.”

    The commission plans to continue the walk-ins indefinitely, every Monday and Tuesday.

    Similar nalaxone efforts are underway in Philadelphia, which has also experienced an increase in overdoses in recent weeks. Area health officials are still investigating the details, but many think the overdoses are in part the result of heroin laced with the powerful synthetic fentanyl.

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