When the state Health Secretary visited northeast Pennsylvania during a recent health provider summit, Michael Arcangeletti slipped her a card.

The bright blue card is his simple solution to help solve a complex, lingering problem — opioid addiction.

The 35-year-old Old Forge graduate student noticed pharmacies did not give clients any information about how to get help for opioid addiction.

So, he printed 1,000 cards for pharmacists and emergency workers to include with every opioid prescription, drugstore syringe package and naloxone dose to help patients find immediate and long-term help. The postcard-size inserts contain phone numbers, addresses and websites for medical providers and organizations that offer addiction help.

At first, a few independent pharmacists in Lackawanna County distributed the cards. Now, a few months months later, many more participate.

Michael Arcangeletti displays the information card he produced listing resources for people
using prescription opioid drugs. BUTCH COMEGYS / TIMES-TRIBUNE PHOTOGRAPHER

“I just look at this as another means to throw a resource at this problem,” said Arcangeletti, a recovering addict clean for almost a decade who is studying social work at Marywood University.

His new goal is to get pharmacies in neighboring counties and national pharmacy chains to adopt his model.

Giving Sec. Rachel Levine a card was an important step in that direction because she helps lead Pennsylvania’s new Opioid Operational Command Center. Levine passed the card to Ray Barishansky, a deputy secretary with the Opioid Operational Command Center.

“At least it got to the Command Center what we did here in Lackawanna County,” Arcangeletti said.

His initiative comes as the opioid addiction epidemic worsens. The pharmacy often is an addict’s first contact with prescription painkillers.

Lackawanna County had Pennsylvania’s second-highest opioid prescription rate per capita in 2015 — 112 prescriptions per 100 residents, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It doesn’t have to be an abuse situation,” said Olyphant pharmacist Eric Pusey of Medicap Pharmacy, who distributes Arcangeletti’s informational cards. “It could be a normal situation where a patient forgets or may take two or innocently do something that puts them in an overdose situation.”

Pennsylvania Ambulance uses Arcangeletti’s cards because their emergency naloxone kits do not have additional information to help overdose victims after they are revived, operations manager Bruce Beauvais said.

Marty Henehan, a Scranton activist fighting the addiction epidemic and co-founder of the Forever Sammi Foundation, put his number and website on the card.

Henehan, a recovering addict whose daughter, Samantha, fatally overdosed in 2016, works in the local recovery community and helped Arcangeletti bring more pharmacies on board.

Addicts often reach a moment of clarity when they are alone and about to use drugs, Henehan said.

“There were many times in my addiction I would be reaching for that pill bottle, and, as I was turning the pill bottle, about to dump it in my hand, I was literally thinking to myself, this is no way to live,” he said. “The hope is that as they reach for that pill bottle, they see that leaflet and say, ‘Maybe these guys have an answer for me.’”

Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131

BY JON O’CONNELL, The Times-Tribune

This story is part of an Associated Press project. America is in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic in its history and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter. In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the US, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Opioid deaths made up about half of all drug overdoses in the state that year. The death toll from opioids abuse has climbed so high that the governor’s office this year issued an emergency declaration. That designation calls for increased coordination and tracking of the work of health and safety agencies dealing with the public health emergency. Newsrooms have been documenting the epidemic’s soaring numbers for close to two decades. Now, a special project marshalling their combined strength is focusing on what Pennsylvanians around the state are doing to try to reverse this most deadly trend. These are stories of community support, outreach, care and prevention. All are about hope.