“People are injecting more often, they need more syringes, and they don’t necessarily have enough, and because of that they’re reusing syringes, which increases their risk,” said Lia Pizzicato, a substance-use epidemiologist for the city health department. “And then because they’re injecting so much, it’s difficult to find a vein, and they’re more likely to miss. It’s a cycle.”
By Aubrey Whelan
“Without that increase in prescribing, we’d still be in the midst of a crisis,” said Kendra Viner, the manager of the city’s opioid surveillance program. “It might not be at the level it’s currently at.”
By Aubrey Whelan and Nathaniel Lash
“What I was really struck by was how big the drop was in Kensington — that’s the site of the Resilience Project, the site of the most drug activity. It’s the hot spot in the city,” said Tom Farley, the city’s health commissioner. “It’s an encouraging sign that we are really making progress in the area. But the rest of the city is following different trajectories.”
By Aubrey Whelan
Philadelphia’s Health Department is still giving out blue light bulbs to neighbors who ask for them, according to spokesperson Jim Garrow, but only until the supply runs out. After that, the city will reevaluate the strategy’s effectiveness, he said.
“The opioid epidemic is unprecedented,” Garrow said, “and the city is willing to try a variety of tactics to help support those with opioid use disorder.”
By Michaela Winberg
Eighteen regional hospitals in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties, supported by the Health Care Improvement Foundation, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, and the Philadelphia, Chester, and Montgomery County health departments, have published a comprehensive report detailing community health issues that affect their patient populations.
“With the criteria that the institutions used to do the ratings, you think about what issues are having a big magnitude in terms of impacting a larger number of community members. And then you think about what’s actually on people’s minds, what they are feeling the burden of,” said Raynard Washington, the chief epidemiologist for Philadelphia’s health department.
The opioid crisis, he said, was at the top of both lists.
“It’s virtually impossible not to see it as a major health issue,” he said.
By Aubrey Whelan
The report focuses on communities and their needs, which meant going into neighborhoods and interviewing individuals served by the hospitals. Dr. Raynard Washington with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health says they learned it’s not easy for people to find the resources they need.
“A common theme is additional supports to help people navigate the very complex healthcare and health resource systems that we have,” Washington said.
By Hadas Kuznits
But something happens when civilians receive greater access to the life-saving drug: Its usage becomes harder to track. That’s because when more naloxone gets in the hands of private civilians, many of whom may be drug users themselves, they’re able to administer the drug — usually Narcan, the brand-name for the version given nasally — before paramedics arrive on the scene. And increasingly, health department officials say, paramedics aren’t being called at all. “People using drugs are doing this all the time and not reporting it,” says Allison Herens, the health department’s harm reduction coordinator, who performs naloxone trainings and tracks its use citywide.
By David Murrell
Mayoral spokesman Mike Dunn said Friday that Philadelphia does plan to follow up with pharmacies this summer to check compliance and see if more education is needed.
Philadelphia officials said a 2016 study found 40 percent of pharmacies in areas with the highest rates of heroin possession and distribution stocked naloxone, and fewer than half of surveyed pharmacists knew about the standing order. Pharmacy students also canvassed 85 pharmacies in 2017 to educate pharmacists and encourage them to stock naloxone.
Dunn said the city again checked with pharmacies early last year and found about 75 percent had naloxone in hand.
By Mark Scolforo
A new opioid response team in Philadelphia is pairing paramedics with social service case workers with the goal of getting overdose survivors into treatment.
The SAMHSA grant also allowed the departments to hire an epidemiologist, Emily Bobyock, to track and consolidate data among the various departments and measure the program’s success.
Bobyock said that initially she will look at how many contacts the unit makes, the nature of the contact (whether the unit is being flagged down, stops when it sees someone in distress, or is arriving as a secondary to a medic unit), and how many doses of Narcan are left behind, as well as outcomes such as how many people are accepting treatment and remaining there. Kenney said they will report on the initiative’s progress next month.
By Nina Feldman
Philadelphia has rolled out an emergency response team unlike any other in the nation. The new EMS unit, called AR-2, was announced Wednesday. It has a two-pronged goal: reverse overdoses and connect people to treatment services.
Currently deployed in the Kensington neighborhood, the team is a mix of paramedics, case workers and public health professionals — a model that puts the effort in uncharted territory.
By Michaela Winberg
“That 90% of people who are supportive of an overdose-prevention site, I think their voices at community meetings are really important to hear, and we have not heard them as often as we’d like,” said Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy, who is leading the Mayor’s Resilience Project and has been in conversations with Kensington residents.
By Nina Feldman
“It is encouraging to us that an overwhelming majority of Kensington residents understand that overdose prevention sites not only save lives, they also help drug users get into treatment and reduce the number of people injecting drugs on the street,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley told PWin a statement Tuesday. “When over a thousand people are dying of drug overdoses in Philadelphia each year, we need to provide these services as soon as possible. Just as syringe exchange was once controversial but is now a widely-accepted and proven way to prevent HIV/AIDS, overdose prevention sites will likewise be shown to save lives and help affected neighborhoods.”
By Courtenay Harris Bond
Kensington has been hard-hit by fatal drug overdoses during the past few years, representing the highest concentration in the city. Public health officials recently reported a modest reduction in deaths from 2017 to 2018, but acknowledged more must be done to limit the toll on the community.
By Michael Tanenbaum
According to James Garrow, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, drug deaths in which toxicology reports showed methamphetamine rose between 2015 and 2017, but remained stable in 2018.
“The number is still small,” said Garrow. “Only about six percent of drug deaths in Philadelphia last year were positive for methamphetamine — and most of these were also positive for one or more opioids.”
By Michael Rellahan