With a national increase in opioid usage and overdoses, the Bethlehem Health Bureau introduced a program to provide Narcan nasal spray to all residents in Northampton County free of charge.
Narcan nasal spray is a form of Naloxone, a medication used as an emergency response treatment for opioid overdose. The distribution of Narcan is a significant step toward lowering the death rate of overdosage, as Naloxone was previously only accessible as a prescription.
Over 153 million opioid prescriptions are filled a year in the United States, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.
The National Center for Drug Abuse reports that out of 96,779 overdoses from 2020-2021, opioids accounted for over 67.8% of them.
Sherri Penchishen, the director of the Chronic Disease Programs at the Bethlehem Health Bureau and coordinator of the bureau’s Narcan distribution program in Northampton County, said it was funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
This program has implemented Naloxone boxes throughout the area, including the Bethlehem Public Library, Bethlehem Emergency Center, New Bethany and the health center in Easton. These purple boxes containing Narcan kits are free for anyone to take.
The bureau also supplied kits to schools and emergency responders in Northampton County.
“We’re trying to hit the vulnerable population, the at-risk population and also where we feel there might be a high influence on public traffic,” Penchishen said.
She said the Bethlehem Health Bureau has made efforts to decrease the stigma around the usage of Naloxone.
“The data shows that Narcan saves lives, and the availability of Narcan saves lives regardless if people believe they will use opioids more frequently,” Penchishen said.
Some of the efforts intended to decrease the stigma of substance abuse include media advertising and messages on buses.
Penchishen said the health bureau measures the success of these advertisements by administering a yearly survey, where community members can provide feedback.
The supply of Narcan kits at the Bethlehem Health Bureau has made it possible for other organizations to distribute a supply and implement education on the use and importance of these kits.
In early October, the Lehigh Health and Wellness Center held a Wellness Wednesday event that addressed the opioid crisis and gave a free Narcan kit to students who attended.
“We have a stock, and you can save people’s lives by having it available,” said Steven Bowers, the director of Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center. “So let’s make it available.”
Bowers said all students need to do to obtain a Narcan kit is call the Health and Wellness Center and make an appointment.
Chi Phi also held a Narcan Education and Distribution event on the STEPS Lawn in September, handing out donuts and a Narcan kit to students who filled out a quick form for the Bethlehem Health Bureau.
The fraternity obtained these kits directly from the Bethlehem Health Bureau, and the leftover kits were given to the Health and Wellness Center.
Dylan Ferguson, ‘27, has friends who attended Chi Phi’s event, learned about Narcan and received a kit.
“I think that opioid overdose is something that is commonly happening,” Ferguson said. “We see more and more cases of it, especially with laced drugs, and it’s a really dangerous thing so it’s good to know how to use.”
In late November, members of Chi Psi completed safety training in CPR, Narcan use and excessive bleeding.
Now, a Narcan kit can be found at chapter houses on the Hill.
Whether it’s prescription opioid drugs or drugs laced with an opioid such as fentanyl, accidental opioid overdoses are becoming increasingly common, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported an annual increase in opioid drug overdoses since 1999.
Although Bowers said there have been no recent reported cases of opioid overdose on campus, education and awareness about the topic can prevent unnecessary deaths.
“It’s a nationwide issue,” Bowers said. “Just having it available and knowing how to use it is the only way we’re really going to save lives.”
Bowers said while they currently have no future events planned about Narcan education, he said the center will host more if students provide positive feedback or request these programs.