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Opioid Response Unit

The City’s response

Learn about the City’s response to opioid use, including expanding access to treatment, preventing overdoses, and strengthening prevention and education.

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 people from the hospital to a treatment provider who can provide ongoing care. The City continues to support warm handoff programs in the city’s hospitals to ensure people who have had a non-fatal overdose are connected quickly to treatment.

Supporting a new 24/7 substance use treatment center

The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) supports a 24/7 walk-in center at 5th and Spring Garden streets, where people can receive immediate stabilization for opioids with medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). 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 and are at greater risk of overdose upon release. The Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) began offering MOUD to female incarcerated people with opioid use disorder in early 2018. The pilot has since been expanded to cover all PDP facilities. All individuals who receive buprenorphine while incarcerated are referred to community MOUD providers upon release.

All incarcerated people receive a prescription for naloxone upon release.

Preventing overdoses

Offering naloxone training

The City believes that everyone should know about naloxone because anyone may be in a position to save a life. In addition to distributing naloxone to first responders, 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 2021, the program trained approximately 2,000 individuals in overdose prevention and dispensed almost 62,000 naloxone kits.

The program also introduced fentanyl test strip distribution and training in order to respond to the rising number of fatal overdoses involving the drug. In 2021 the program trained nearly 1,000 individuals and distributed about 120,000 fentanyl test strips.

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). People are able to use drugs that they bring into an OPS, like heroin, under medical supervision to prevent a fatal overdose. At an OPS, people also have the opportunity to enter drug treatment and connect to other social services, such as housing, if needed.

The first sanctioned OPS in the United States opened in late 2021. The New York City program reversed 59 overdoses in its first three weeks. An additional 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.

The City supports having one or more OPS in Philadelphia to reduce drug overdose deaths, reduce public drug use and discarded drug-related litter, prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and improve access to treatment.

Learn more about how OPS offer assistance and save lives.

Strengthening prevention and education

While most overdose deaths in Philadelphia involve fentanyl, some people first become dependent on prescription opioid painkillers. Reducing people’s unnecessary exposure to these drugs is one way to address the overdose crisis.

Working with doctors and insurers to ensure health for all

The City has created opioid guidance for clinicians 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 MOUD. The guidance also includes resources to support medical providers and pharmacists when prescribing and dispensing naloxone and buprenorphine.

Expert guest speakers available

The City makes health and behavioral health experts available to address community groups.