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Philly plans 24-hour 'walk-in' center for drug users in crisis

Details on the facility, to be located in North Philly, have yet to be worked out.

The city plans to open an around-the-clock walk-in center in North Philadelphia over the summer where addicted drug users in crisis could be stabilized and perhaps begin medication as a bridge to treatment.

The center would go a step beyond the five behavioral health-crisis response centers in the city that can see and assess patients, but must refer them elsewhere for treatment — often to places with no space available.

Roland Lamb, deputy director of the city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, briefly mentioned the planned center during City Council testimony Tuesday on the Kenney administration's $1.6 billion budget request, more than 80 percent of which is federal and state reimbursement for Medicaid-funded behavioral health services.

He said later that the city had opened a temporary version of a walk-in center at North Philadelphia Health System a year and a half ago, but demand was so overwhelming that it ended up closing.

Lamb said details of the new center, including cost, location, capacity, and services, were still being worked out and would depend in large part on how providers respond to requests for proposals that his department expects to issue by June. He would say only that it would likely be able to handle "dozens" of clients and that he hoped some would be able to begin receiving buprenorphine, a medication that is used to assist in detox as well as a longer-term treatment for opioid addiction.

The center would not deal with overdoses, which can be fatal and are handled by hospital emergency departments.

More than 900 people died of drug overdoses in Philadelphia last year, over 25 percent more than in 2015; four-fifths of last year's deaths had opioids in their blood.

On Monday, the city announced a TV and social media campaign labeling prescription pain relievers "heroin in pill form," a recognition that most young heroin users today — and most people who die of any kind of opioid overdose — begin with prescription drugs, often prescribed legitimately for pain.

At the budget hearing, Councilman Allan Domb asked Lamb if the city could clean up a filthy area along the Conrail tracks in Kensington, known as El Campamento, within 30 days. Lamb said the cleanup would involve multiple agencies and he could not commit to a timeline.