Free access to Narcan through dispensers is now available in Philly. Photo: CBS3
Free access to Narcan through dispensers is now available in Philly. Photo: CBS3

Access to free Narcan in Philly: Narcan dispensers now in operation

Those in Philly can obtain free Narcan, stored via dispensing machines, through the city’s new “Narcan Near Me” program.


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EDITOR's Note: Reporters Brittany Valentine and Andrew Kolba Both Contributed to this story.

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, Philadelphia health officials unveiled an innovative way to distribute the overdose-reversal drug naloxone: a vending machine. 

The program, entitled Narcan Near Me, is the first of its kind in the U.S. Naloxone, otherwise known by its brand name Narcan, has saved countless lives in the face of an increasingly deadly opioid epidemic. 

When injected as a nasal spray, the fast-acting remedy reverses the effects of an overdose by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. Narcan is non-additive and does not produce a high.

While the life-saving medication is already available in pharmacies without the need for a prescription, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole noted that it can still be hard to find, and the stigma surrounding substance use disorders still serve as a barrier to access. 

The new “Narcan Near Me” program has been initiated by the Philadelphia Health Department. The vending machines have been dubbed “towers.”

Towers will contain 22 overdose prevention kits each. Towers will be “locked” until accessed by tapping the dispsener’s front-facing touch screen.

The kits will include two doses of Narcan (nasal spray), gloves, face shields, and a visual aid on how to administer. Towers also have access to directly connect residents to 911.

When announcing the program, Bettigole reflected on the ongoing, multiyear fight against overdoses in the city.

"West Philly is one of the places that has been hardest hit by the fact that fentanyl can potentially be in any drug. We need to take action today. We need to make sure that people here in West Philly have free, easy access to Narcan today. That's why we're here today: because we found a new and innovative way to start to get Narcan into West Philly,” said Bettigole.

Bettigole put heavy emphasis on the presence of fentanyl in West Philly, noting an increase as of late. 

The program is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city is also partnering with the Canadian company Dispension Industries, which creates technology used for the kiosks. 

“My hope is that the installation of this Narcan tower can be a start of not only harm reduction, but also the start of a conversation of what else needs to change if we’re going to beat the opioid crisis,” said State Rep. Rick Krajewski in a press release. 

Responding to 2021’s overdose rates 

In 2020, Philadelphia recorded 1,214 overdoses. In the first six months of 2021, the Health Department documented 582 overdose deaths, which put the city on track for its worst two years in overdose deaths.

In the same year, the city distributed about 65,000 doses of Narcan to providers, community organizations, first responders, law enforcement agencies, and criminal justice organizations. More than 20,000 doses were prescribed to people on Medical Assistance. 

Anyone who uses a Narcan tower will have the option to complete a short survey, indicating their demographic information to help the health department get a better sense of who is using the machines. 

According to Jose Caraballo, harm reduction specialist at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the whole process should take less than 30 seconds. 

“Having something … 24 hours a day, in a trusted space, right, like this library, that’s very important. I think that’s going to help some of those that need the medication but won’t access it because of other barriers that they have in place,” Caraballo told WHYY News. 

In 2021, the United States topped 100,000 overdoses within a year’s span. 

In Philadelphia, overdoses among Hispanic populations rose 1%, increased by 29% amongst Black residents, and dropped 10% amongst white residents. 

During this period, 1,214 people overdosed in Philly. This prompted the city to move forward with plans for Narcan vending machines, making the announcement last November. 

The free, 24-hour program will provide access to the life-saving opioid overdose treatment. The program will initially be available in select areas.

The location for the first machine is at the Lucien Blackwell Library on 52nd Street, as West Philadelphia saw the largest increase in overdoses last year. 

Areas such as Kensington had more overall overdoses, but they have been dealing with the crisis for much longer, and have more access to the medicine. 

The Free Library of Philadelphia President and Director, Kelly Richards, recently shared that “within the Library system, there have been over 54 reported incidents concerning overdoses,” prompting Blackwell Library’s location choice.


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