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Pennsylvania to Allow Naloxone to Be Obtained by Mail in Effort to Reduce Overdose Deaths

Vital Strategies Applauds Health Secretary’s Life-Saving Strategy as Overdose Deaths Nationally Hit Record 72,000 in 2019 and are Rising due to COVID in 2020 

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed a groundbreaking updated standing order which authorizes community-based organizations to provide the overdose reversal medication naloxone, including by mail. Whereas the original standing order issued by the Secretary in 2016 focused on naloxone obtained from a pharmacy, the new standing order enables community-based distribution, a critical means of getting naloxone into the hands of people who use drugs and their loved ones.  

“Pennsylvania’s order to allow mail-order naloxone is a double win – it will reduce overdose deaths and protect communities from the spread of COVID. Vital Strategies applauds Secretary Levine and the state of Pennsylvania for making this life-saving medication more accessible to those who need it,” said Kate Boulton, Legal Technical Advisor, Overdose Prevention Program, Vital Strategies. 

 “Reducing barriers to naloxone is a critical harm reduction strategy, especially urgent at a time when COVID-19 is exacerbating the overdose crisis.” 

Mail and community-based distribution of naloxone are more important now than ever at a time when COVID-19 has disrupted service capacity and limited individual ability to access harm reduction programs. 

Pennsylvania has the fourth highest rate of overdose in the country. After successfully reducing overdoses in 2018 and 2019, the state is seeing concerning signs that overdose deaths may be on the rise in 2020 due to COVID-19. 

Nationally, 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2019, according to provisional data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an increase of 5 percent from 2018. The total is a new peak for overdose deaths in the country, and wiped out the slight decrease in overdose deaths that took place in 2018, the first drop in 25 years. Early indications for 2020 are that overdose deaths are continuing to rise nationally, with COVID likely playing a significant role in the increase.  Drug deaths have risen an average of 13 percent so far this year over last year, according to mortality data from local and state governments collected by The New York Times, covering 40 percent of the U.S. population.   

About Vital Strategies   

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.  

To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.  

About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program  

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives. As part of the initiative, Vital Strategies has been advancing a comprehensive approach to reduce overdose in the state of Pennsylvania.