Montgomery County on Thursday issued a standing order for the overdose drug naloxone, so anyone can get it at a pharmacy without having to see a doctor first.
Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who signed the order in her capacity as the county's Interim Medical Director, said having the drug on hand can save the lives not just of heroin addicts but also people with respiratory or other medical issues who may have unexpected severe reactions to prescribed painkillers.
"It's very easy and effective to administer," she said at the commissioners meeting. "It has no addictive potential, and . . . it's a relatively safe drug."
Pharmacies that choose to participate will receive training and support from the county Health Department in issuing the drug, either syringe or nasal spray, and instructing people on how to use them. Insurance may cover it, but naloxone isn't considered a high-cost drug even without insurance.
CVS last month announced that it would provide naloxone kits under a similar standing order in 14 states where laws allow it, including Pennsylvania.
Montgomery County and other jurisdictions have drastically expanded access to naloxone over the last year amid a rising epidemic of opioid deaths.
The county coroner began tracking heroin-related deaths and found a 39 percent increase from 2013 to 2014 and even more in the first quarter of 2015.
Since April, when 12 police departments began carrying naloxone, it has been used 16 times. The District Attorney's office on Tuesday announced funding to expand that to every law enforcement and first responder vehicle in the county.
Abington Police Chief William Kelly, who chairs the county's drug overdose task force, called naloxone "a miracle drug."
"There are so many things we do in our work in law enforcement where you know you're doing good work, and you know you've probably prevented some bad things from happening. But you really can't count them," he said. "These are cases where you know with absolute certainty the person is on the verge of death and comes back."