Philadelphia is home to the worst urban opioid crisis in America. More than 3,000 people have died of drug overdoses here in the last three years, and the city health department estimates that tens of thousands of Philadelphians are addicted to opioids.
As the epidemic has worsened, city officials, hospitals, and outreach workers have scrambled to address a complicated public health crisis with few easy answers.
The city has spent more than a year pouring resources and initiatives into Kensington, the neighborhood at the epicenter of the crisis. Two years after fatal overdoses hit an all-time high — claiming 1,217 people in 2017 — it appears that the 2019 toll will be similar to 2018′s, when 1,116 people died.
“The numbers haven’t been finalized, but the preliminary numbers, I’m not particularly pleased,” said Brian Abernathy, city managing director. “It’s about the same as last year. But I’m not happy with that. The amount of devastation that’s happening on so many different levels is just not something we as a city should think is OK.”
Getting that still-staggering number to budge in 2020 will mean much more work, especially outside Kensington, in areas like South Philly, where drug use usually happens behind closed doors, away from the reach of health workers.
Here’s what the city — and its partners in hospitals and outreach organizations — has planned for the year ahead.