PHILADELPHIA—The Philadelphia Department of Public Health confirmed that 639 people died of a drug overdose in Philadelphia between January and June 2021. During the first six months of 2020, the Health Department recorded 582 drug overdose deaths. This increase puts Philadelphia on a trajectory to record the highest number of drug overdose deaths in a calendar year.
“The number of people lost to overdose in 2021 is shocking, and the pain suffered by their loved ones is incalculable. We mourn every one of those lost last year and over the past decade,” said Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Frank Franklin. “The shifting demographics of this epidemic are more evidence that all corners of the city need to come together and fight the scourge of fentanyl. This is no longer a Kensington problem; everyone needs to commit to saving the lives of our loved ones, neighbors, and family members.”
The Health Department offers a range of bereavement support services for those grieving the loss of someone due to substance use. People can sign up for free virtual peer support groups, grief counseling, grief peers, and workshops. There are support groups for peers and clinicians who may be processing grief due to loss experienced in their work. All of these free services can be found on the Health Department’s Bereavement Support website.
In 2020, 1,214 people died from drug overdose in Philadelphia. This was the second highest number of overdose deaths, following 1,217 who died in 2017. The recently released Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction division’s annual report detailed that, in 2020, overdose deaths in Black, non-Hispanic Philadelphians rose by nearly 30%, Hispanic Philadelphians by 1.1%, while White Philadelphians experienced a nearly 10% drop in overdose deaths.
The Health Department offers a range of free harm reduction services, including naloxone, the non-addictive, life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose. There are also free overdose reversal trainings and trainings on how to test for the presence of fentanyl using test strips. All of these resources can be found on phillynaloxone.org and are actively promoted to community members through outreach by Health Department staff.
In 2021, 306 deaths were confirmed between January and March (compared to 273 in 2020), and 333 deaths were confirmed between April and June (compared to 309 in 2020). There are 9 deaths that are still under investigation, but there is no timeline on when they will be completed. The Health Department hopes to issue final 2021 overdose death counts in late Spring 2022.
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