Missing Overdose Victims

“This is rising,” Health Department spokesperson Jim Garrow told Billy Penn. “We think that people are calling 911, administering naloxone and then the person is revived. Their life is saved. And they don’t want to wait for the ambulance.”


By Max Marin

The City’s Response to Opioids

In 2018, Philadelphia saw a modest decrease in overdose deaths — from 1,217 in 2017 to 1,116. Unfortunately, the decrease didn’t start a downward trend. Preliminary estimates from the Department of Public Health suggest overdose deaths in 2019 will end up close to the 2018 number.


By Staff

Philadelphia Tracking Opioid Prescribers

In 2018, health officials issued new prescribing guidance to more than 15,000 doctors in the Philadelphia region. Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said his department sent staff into more than 1,000 offices to work directly with doctors to curb prescriptions and come up with alternative approaches to pain management. By most accounts, it’s working: According to city data, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by 30% between early 2017 and early 2019.

Even so, Farley said, there are still too many prescription drugs floating around.

“We find that, despite the large amounts of publicity, there are still some doctors out there that don’t understand that their prescribing practices really aren’t good for their patients in the long run,” he said. “They were taught for years to prescribe more opioids.”


By Nina Feldman

State of the Tattoo Community

The number of tattoo artists and businesses has grown in recent decades, the artists say, but it’s hard to tell by the number of body artist licenses issued alone. The city currently reports more than 400 people carry said license. The body artists license includes piercing and microblading, and tattoo artists are part of a transient community, according to a spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Health.


By Ximena Conde

EPA Benzene Report


Philadelphia’s Air Management Services, under the health department, operates 10 monitors around the city measuring ambient levels of air pollutants including benzene. The monitor closest to the plant, at 24th and Ritner Streets, never detected benzene amounts that would raise a public health alarm in the years prior to the fire, said James Garrow, a health department spokesman.


By Andrew Maykuth

NBC News

James Garrow, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, said in a statement that “it is a well-known fact that refineries emit benzene during operation.” He said that a city-run air monitor a half mile from where the refinery’s highest benzene emissions were recorded didn’t record excessive benzene emissions after the disaster and that any “responsible bidder” would seek out such information.


By Corbin Hiar, E&E News and Lisa Riordan Seville


Garrow said the city did not disclose the information to the public because testing at a city air-monitoring station at 24th and Ritner streets did not show such high levels.

“Within the community, we never found levels of benzene high enough to indicate a threat to human health,” he said.


By Catalina Jaramillo


James Garrow, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Health, told WHYY that the EPA informed the city that PES was exceeding the limit last May. According to the EPA’s rule, the action level is not an enforceable limit. But it gives refineries surpassing the limit 45 days to submit a report analysing the possible causes and establishing ways to fix them.


By Catalina Jaramillo

Removal of Tobacco Licenses


PHILADELPHIA–The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced that 149 stores that have been selling tobacco products are not eligible to renew their tobacco sales permits in 2020, due to repeated violations of City regulations against selling tobacco products to minors. This number represents 6% of tobacco sales permits in Philadelphia. Many of the stores that are losing their permits are concentrated in poor, minority neighborhoods in North, West, and Southwest Philadelphia. (See attached map and table.)



“The number one killer in Philadelphia continues to be tobacco,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “Many people suffering from tobacco addiction got hooked when a store clerk flouted the law and sold a child a pack of cigarettes, cigarillos, or an e-cigarette. Stores that repeatedly sell tobacco products to kids are a clear danger to our neighborhoods. Today’s announcement shows that we’re taking this danger seriously and protecting Philadelphia’s kids.”


By Max Bennett


“This is a sign that the city is serious about protecting our kids from these killer, addictive products,” Farley said. “Stores that have been selling cigarettes to children over the years are going to be discovered in the future, and they’re going to lose their tobacco sales privileges if they continue to do this.”


By Rita Giordano

Philly Tribune

The health department randomly checks compliance with the regulations by sending teenagers into stores to attempt to buy tobacco products. Businesses sell minors tobacco products during these test visits 25% to 30% of the time, Farley said. A violation results in a city fine.


By Michael D’Onofrio


Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the stores were caught selling cigarettes to teenagers under 18 three or more times in the last two years, so their applications to continue selling cigarettes this year were denied.

Philadelphia has more tobacco outlets than other large cities — 2,600 still have permits. Farley said one of the goals of the new permits rules is to reduce the concentration “in low-income, minority neighborhoods.”


By Pat Loeb


“We hope that this action today will send a message to the other stores in the city that we’re serious. If they continue to sell to kids, they’re going to lose their tobacco sales privileges,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

Farley says the city has taken action against 149 stores caught selling tobacco to kids three or more times in the past two years.


By Stephanie Stahl


By the time licenses were up for renewal in January 2019, four stores had reached the threshold. This year, 149 reached it.

To catch violators, the city sends young mystery shoppers to retailers to try to buy cigarettes. The city partners with the nonprofit Health Promotion Council to recruit and pay teen shoppers between 15 and 17, all of whom attempt to buy cigarettes. The teens are accompanied by adult chaperones.


By Nina Feldman


Over 149 stores in Philly that have accrued repeated violations of city laws by selling tobacco products to minors have been forbidden from renewing their tobacco sales permits in 2020. This follows a crackdown on legislation launched in 2017 that if a store sold to minors three or more times within the past two years, they would not be able to renew their sales permits.

By Becca Glasser-Baker


This is the first big action taken stemming from a 2017 law saying that any Philadelphia business selling tobacco to teens three or more times in two years would lose their license.

In 2019, four stores were cited. This time around? 149.

The health department says all stores were caught during compliance checks, where teens ask to buy tobacco.


By Bob Brooks

The Philly Voice

In their statement, the city health officials also mentioned that many of the stores losing permits are concentrated in “poor, minority neighborhoods, in North, West, and Southwest Philadelphia,” and included the following map demonstrating where busts occurred.


By Allie Miller