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Combating the opioid epidemic

The City’s response

Philadelphia is fighting our most pressing public health crisis in multiple ways.

Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction: This program leads the City’s efforts to reduce deaths from drug overdose and improve access to help.
The Philadelphia Resilience Project: This project works with residents, civic associations, community-based organizations, service providers, faith leaders, and local businesses to help the Kensington area recover.

Strengthening prevention and education

While most overdose deaths in Philadelphia are because of heroin and fentanyl, many users first become addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. Saving lives begins with reducing people’s unnecessary exposure to these drugs. The City is addressing this in multiple ways.

Educating the public

Anyone can become addicted to opioids or experience an overdose. Just because opioids are prescribed by health care providers does not mean that they are safe. To raise awareness among the public, the City launched “Don’t Take the Risk”, a media campaign that features Philadelphians whose lives were affected by prescription painkillers. The campaign videos are below:

Working with doctors and insurers to reduce overprescribing

The City has created opioid prescribing guidelines and tapering guidelines that healthcare providers can use when considering prescribing opioids. The Department of Public Health has also been working with public and private health insurers to establish safer opioid prescribing policies and policies that improve access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

In addition to these efforts, Pennsylvania physicians are required by law to take two hours of education in pain management, identification of addiction, or safe opioid prescribing in order to renew their medical license in 2020. Physicians seeking a Pennsylvania medical license for the first time need to take two hours of education in pain management or identification of addiction AND at least two hours of education in safe opioid prescribing.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society has developed online CME to help physicians meet those 2019-2020 requirements. Take it today.


Expanding access to treatment

Implementing warm handoffs

People with opioid use disorder are often seen in emergency departments, where they should be rapidly assessed and offered treatment. A “warm handoff” helps get those folks from the hospital to a treatment provider who can provide ongoing care. The City is expanding warm handoffs to ensure people who have had a non-fatal overdose are connected quickly to treatment. The Mayor announced the proposed expansion of this effort in his 2018–2019 budget speech.

Supporting a new 24/7 medication-assisted treatment center

DBHIDS supports a 24/7 walk-in center at 5th and Spring Garden Streets, where people can receive immediate stabilization for opioids with MAT. The center also helps people get further treatment.

Providing treatment for people who are incarcerated

People who are incarcerated have higher rates of substance use. The Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) began offering MAT to female inmates with opioid use disorder in early 2018. It is anticipated that this pilot will be expanded to cover all facilities in the fall of 2018.

All inmates receive a prescription for naloxone upon release. Those with opioid use disorder are linked to an outpatient program and receive naloxone upon release.

Preventing overdoses

Distributing naloxone to first responders

Naloxone saves lives. The City has greatly expanded its distribution of the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone, to first responders and community members. Since July 1, 2017, the City has distributed more than 37,000 doses of naloxone. The Mayor announced the proposed expansion of this effort in his 2018–2019 budget speech.

Offering naloxone training

The City believes that everyone should know about naloxone because anyone may be in a position to save a life. The City offers free naloxone trainings each month for the public. Participants learn how to save lives by recognizing an opioid overdose and administering naloxone. In 2016 and 2017, the program trained approximately 1,000 individuals and distributed more than 250 naloxone kits. Learn more about naloxone and register for a training.

Supporting innovative, humane solutions, like OPS

In January 2018, the City announced its support for Comprehensive User Engagement Sites, later renamed Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS). OPS are facilities where drug users can use drugs like heroin under supervision in order to prevent fatal overdoses. They can also be linked to drug treatment and other social services. While no OPS exist in the United States, more than 100 facilities operate around the world. Research shows that these facilities save lives and prevent the spread of infections such as HIV and hepatitis C while reducing public drug use and discarded drug-related litter.

Learn more about how OPS offer assistance and save lives. Get the facts on OPS.

Lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

Scientific studies have shown that the way in which drug companies marketed prescription opioids to doctors played a major role in starting the opioid epidemic. To stop this and get back the money the City has spent responding to the crisis, the City has filed a lawsuit against several prescription opioid manufacturers in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.

Expanding the role of law enforcement

Implementing police-assisted diversion

The City of Philadelphia has launched a police-assisted diversion (PAD) pilot in the 22nd Police District.

PAD is a collaborative partnership among police officers, service providers, and community members. Through this initiative, police officers redirect low-level offenders to community-based services. Instead of prosecution and jail, offenders are offered connections to services.

This is an important tool in the City’s multi-pronged effort to reduce incarceration, address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, and fight the opioid epidemic.

Expert guest speakers available

The City makes health and behavioral health experts available to address community groups. Our experts can share information, engage in smal