Over five days this month, 35 people died from apparent drug overdoses in Philadelphia. A few weeks ago the city had 50 overdoses in one day. Philly is on pace to have more than 900 fatal overdoses this year - triple the homicide rate.
At what point will city leaders say enough is enough?
Mayor Kenney did create a task force last month. That's all well and good, but there needs to be a greater sense of urgency to the problem.
Plans to combat the opioid crisis must be bold. This is a deadly epidemic that needs to be attacked with the same force that was used to confront AIDS and terrorism.
This is not just a Philadelphia problem. Five people died from suspected overdoses in Bucks County last week. Three people died within five hours in York County on Nov. 30. The opioid epidemic cuts across economic and racial lines and exists in cities, rural towns, and leafy suburbs.
In January, John Decker, 30, of Gladwyne died after battling addiction. A gifted athlete at Haverford High before graduating from Cornell University, Decker was a financial analyst who had everything going for him. His father, Thomas A. "Tad" Decker, is a high-powered attorney at Cozen O'Connor and a friend of former Gov. Ed Rendell, who wants the federal government to create a national directory to crack down on doctors who overprescribe pain medication that often leads to illicit drug addictions.
Unlike Decker, most overdose deaths go unreported or unnoticed. Families are left to suffer in silence, often ashamed by the loss. That's all the more reason why greater attention must be paid to a problem that is out of control. This is an issue that city, state, and federal lawmakers - regardless of political party - should be able to tackle together.
Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died from overdoses in 2014 - more than 120 a day. Overdoses now kill more people than car accidents and gun violence. The jump in overdoses is due in part to heroin being cut with inexpensive fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful.
Pennsylvania ranks eighth in the country in overdose deaths. More than 3,500 people died from overdoses in 2015 - a 30 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report by the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. The report found 67 percent of the overdose victims were men, 84 percent were white, 13 percent were black, and 3 percent were Hispanic.
Gov. Wolf called the opioid epidemic one of the biggest problems facing the state. Last month, he signed a package of bills that included restricting the number of pills that can be prescribed to minors. That's a good start, but other leaders have been more audacious.
In 2014, then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency to combat the opioid crisis and directed all state police, firefighters, and emergency personnel to be equipped with naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses.
By comparison, Philadelphia is scrounging to raise funds to equip all police cars with naloxone by going to a few wealthy donors and using Kickstarter, a web-based fund-raising program, Rendell said.
How sad that a major city has to resort to Kickstarter to save lives.
In Ithaca, N.Y., home of Cornell University, Mayor Svante Myrick proposed opening "injection sites," where addicts could use heroin under the supervision of medical professionals armed with naloxone. The goal is to prevent fatal overdoses, while offering services to help users kick the addiction.
The idea is catching on. A task force formed by the mayor of Seattle endorsed opening similar sites. The drugs would not be supplied, but the addicts would receive clean needles and syringes. State lawmakers in California and Maryland are considering opening injection sites as well.
Similar sites have operated for years in other countries, including Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Injection sites in Switzerland helped reduce drug-related deaths by 50 percent over a decade. Street sales of heroin dropped by 82 percent, according to Ruth Dreifuss, the former president of Switzerland.
In Vancouver, after an injection site opened in 2003, overdoses dropped by 9 percent. There was a 35 percent drop in the area near the facility, according to a study published in the medical journal Lancet. Some think injection sites are a bad idea that encourages illegal drug use, but a survey of residents and businesses in Vancouver found strong support for its facility, known as Insite.
That did not stop former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper from trying to shut down the facility. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2011 told the government to issue an exemption to the drug laws to allow Insite to operate.
"Insite saves lives," the Canadian chief wrote in his decision. "Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada."
Injection sites are not the only answer. But much more needs to be done here. There is no time to waste. Scores of people are dying from overdoses every day.
Paul Davies is the deputy editorial page editor of the Inquirer. email@example.com