In just a few minutes on Monday, Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine handed over a credit card at Minnich’s Pharmacy in York County and walked away with a drug meant to save lives. Shortly after, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis did the same.

Their purchases weren’t coincidences but part of a news conference and public awareness campaign aimed at showcasing the ease of purchasing the lifesaving overdose reversal drug in York County.

Overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, and in York County, are rising.

About 10 Pennsylvanians die each day from opioid overdose deaths, a public health crisis and epidemic Levine says could be battled by focusing on prevention, rescue and treatment — and by getting naloxone into as many hands as possible.

“This is a chronic, relapsing disease,” Levine told a group of reporters, photographers and pharmacy staff. “This is not a moral failure.”

Under a standing order introduced by Levine in 2015, anyone in Pennsylvania may purchase naloxone without a prescription at pharmacies across the commonwealth. Also known by the brand name Narcan, the drug blocks opioid receptors in the brain and allows the resuscitation of anyone going through an overdose.  The standing order covers the nasal spray and auto-injector.

Minnich’s pharmacist and owner Scott Miller said his staff is fully trained and ready to fill the prescription. The drug may be covered by insurance, but the pharmacy will offer discounted private pricing from $104 to $135.

Tennis said naloxone can be used to save lives but there’s more to be done to treat addiction.

“We know this is step one, and once they’re saved we’ve got to get them to treatment,” he said.

Getting that treatment, he said, is the essential last step many aren’t able to take because of “stigma-funded policy” toward treatment.

“If they’re full of shame, if they feel they’re a bad person because that’s what everyone is saying, they’ll be reluctant to get their treatment,” Tennis said.

So far this year, there have been 50 heroin-related overdoses in York County with another 16 suspected. York County Coroner Pam Gay said that number would be higher if first responders weren’t equipped with naloxone.

Administering naloxone to revive someone from an overdose can be controversial. Those who receive it are likely to have overdosed in the past, York District Attorney Tom Kearney said. Some may see making the drug readily available as enabling addicts.

However, Kearney credits the medication with saving 99 people in York County in 2015 and 183 more since January. That’s 282 people who are alive today that wouldn’t be without naloxone, he said. Statewide, police have saved more than 1,700 people using naloxone.

“This should be a part of a first aid arsenal for everyone,” Kearney said.

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