PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia officials today provided status updates to the 18 recommendations made by The Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in May 2017.

Led by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the City is currently implementing many of the recommendations presented by the Task Force. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Increasing outreach and access to Medication-Assisted Treatment
  • Developing “warm hand-offs” from Emergency Departments and the EMS system so that someone who has recently overdosed is connected as quickly as possible to treatment
  • Distributing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone to first responders, people who use drugs and community members
  • Providing “low-barrier” housing options that do not require sobriety
  • Working with residents to mitigate the quality of life issues that have arisen in neighborhoods close to the epicenter of the opioid epidemic

Today, officials also announced that the City will encourage private-sector development of Comprehensive User Engagement Sites (CUES) for individuals experiencing a substance use disorder related to opioids.

“Philadelphia’s fatal overdose rate is the worst in the nation among large cities, and incidents of overdose have steadily increased to an alarming degree,” said Mayor Jim Kenney about the decision. “I applaud the work of the Task Force and city leadership in taking this bold action to help save lives.”

CUES are medical interventions in which essential services are provided to reduce substance use, the harms associated with substance use, and fatal overdose.  These services include referral to treatment and social services, wound care, medically supervised drug consumption, and access to sterile injection equipment and naloxone. The services are provided in a walk-in setting.

The development by a private-sector entity of one or more CUES is a harm reduction strategy, and taken together with multiple other strategies will move the City forward in addressing the opioid crisis by saving lives and reducing the public disorder caused by open air drug use.

“We cannot just watch as our children, our parents, our brothers, and our sisters die of drug overdose,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner.  “We have to use every proven tool we can to save their lives until they recover from the grip of addiction.”

In fully examining this recommendation raised by the task force (Recommendation #13), a delegation of city officials visited Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington, in November 2017 to study similar facilities and efforts in those cities.  A brief report on this visit is available HERE.

Eva Gladstein, Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services, stated, “Our visits to Vancouver and Seattle really hit home that establishing CUES is just one piece of the puzzle to address the opioid crisis.  Our efforts to prevent addiction, help people access treatment, prevent overdoses in other ways, increase housing resources and address public safety concerns are already underway and must continue to grow and strengthen.”

“Having Comprehensive User Engagement Sites – or CUES – as part of our continuum to treatment is just one of the ways in which we believe we can connect Philadelphians struggling with substance use disorders to lifesaving treatment,” said DBHIDS Commissioner David T. Jones. “Of course, we will explore all opportunities that can provide people with the support and services they need, but we are confident that this option is a crucial step in helping people live healthier and happier lives.”

Philadelphia officials also released a scientific review of studies of supervised injection facilities, which showed that these facilities reduce deaths from drug overdose; prevent HIV, hepatitis C, and other infections; and help drug users get into treatment. The report estimates that one site in Philadelphia could prevent up to 76 deaths from drug overdose each year.

The review also concluded that a CUES would also help clean up communities hit hard by drug use.  Specifically, supervised injection facilities in other cities have been shown to reduce the number of littered syringes and other injection materials, the amount of drug injection in public, and neighbors’ perception of disorder.

Moving forward, the City will actively encourage organizations like community nonprofits or medical organizations to operate and fund one or more CUES.  While the city will not operate a CUES, agencies and officials will bring together key stakeholders and identify organizations that are interested in operating, funding, or offering a location for such a facility.

Further, working with elected officials, the city will educate and engage people about the opioid epidemic and how CUES fits into the larger solutions; and develop plans for coordinating or integrating other key services, particularly drug treatment, with the facility.

Other status updates to the Task Force recommendations include:

  • Recommendation #1: In 2017, the Health Department recently launched the first phase of a consumer-directed media campaign about the risks of prescription painkillers – Don’t Take the Risk – A second phase for this campaign is planned for 2018.
  • Recommendation #4: Mayor Kenney met with the heads of all large health systems in Philadelphia asking that they reduce their prescribing of opioids and help addicted people get treatment.  The Health Department and the Department of Behavioral Health have had follow-up meetings with each health system in the city to help them implement this request.
  • Recommendation #5: The Health Department met with every health plan in the state of Pennsylvania and encouraged them to adopt policies that limit over-prescribing of opioids.  Several plans have already adopted or are phasing in these policies
  • Recommendation #12: City agencies will administer or distribute 35,000 doses of naloxone to persons who might witness and be able to treat overdoses.