Machines that dispense the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone are coming to Philadelphia amid the city’s opioid crisis.
The city will install two machines that dispense the drug, more widely known as Narcan, in West and South Philadelphia. They’re expected to be open to the public by the end of the year, said James Garrow, spokesperson for the city’s health department. The two machines will serve as a test run, with plans to install more if they are useful and the city finds additional funding, he said.
The city’s program, dubbed Narcan Near Me, is geared toward combatting the opioid epidemic and the high number of overdose deaths in the city. The machines were targeted for areas in need of resources dedicated to fighting the epidemic.
“Recognizing the financial barriers and stigma individuals face when trying to access Narcan from the pharmacy, we wanted a way to get this medication into the community with as few barriers as possible,” Garrow said. “We also wanted to focus on areas outside of Kensington, where there is more direct outreach, to other areas of the city like West and South Philly that are seeing high numbers of overdoses and racial disparities in overdose rates.”
The machines will have two levels of accessibility. People can either take a five-second survey that asks a person’s age, race, and zip code, or skip that and press a button that will immediately open a cubby with a Narcan kit inside, said Garrow. He said the optional survey was meant to allow the health department to learn who was using the machines, and better target future ones.
The kits will contain two doses of Narcan, gloves, face shields, and instructions for recognizing an overdose and how to use the drug, he said.
The Narcan dispensers are being rolled out as part of a push to fight the opioid crisis that has worsened across the city, shifting to more heavily impact Black and Hispanic Philadelphians, communities already disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, fatal overdoses increased by more than 5% to 1,214, the city’s second-highest death toll on record, according to a health department report. It was behind only 2017, which recorded 1,217 overdose deaths. City health officials said overdose deaths likely rose due to stress and isolation from the pandemic.
The demographics of opioid overdoses also began to shift. In 2020, fatal overdoses decreased among white Philadelphians and rose among Black and Hispanic residents, with the spike particularly impacting the Black community.
The city’s hope is that people who may be uncomfortable asking for Narcan at a pharmacy or talking to outreach workers will seek out the dispensers as an alternative, said Garrow.
The report was released as the CDC announced that more than 100,000 people had died of drug overdoses nationwide between May 2020 and April 2021.
The health department also offers free online training on how to use Narcan, along with the option for people to have Narcan mailed to them, Garrow said. The city’s Next Distro program also offers free Narcan and fentanyl test strips by mail, he said.