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Fatal overdoses increased 11% in Philadelphia over the last year.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Fatal overdoses increased significantly among Black and Latinx Philadelphians within the last year.

Over the past three quarters, fatal overdoses increased 11% citywide, with the most growth among Black and Latinx populations, Billy Penn reported. The city is now taking steps to combat the spike, which occurred primarily in new areas such as West Philadelphia.

Cases of fatal overdose have increased from 850 in 2019 to 950 in 2020. The City of Philadelphia found that the spike is the result of unemployment and social isolation, limited access to behavioral health treatment and social services, and the addition of fentanyl, which is synthetic opioid many times stronger than morphine, to non-opioid drug sources such as cocaine and methamphetamine. 

Philadelphia officials launched the Opioid Response Unit to unify city agencies and private partners to respond to the opioid crisis. The Opioid Response Unit is an expansion of the Philadelphia Resistance Project, a cross-departmental effort that has had a positive impact in Kensington, an area of the city where overdoses were most common before the pandemic. 

The program will bring together providers to pool resources and increase drug treatment places, reunite families, and identify which facilities have available beds, Billy Penn reported.

Noelle Foizen, who led the Philadelphia Resistance Project and is now director of the ORU, told Billy Penn that the project was so successful they decided to replicate it. 

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine previously found that fatal opioid overdoses increased among Black Philadelphians during the pandemic, while decreasing among white residents. 

The United States Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in 2017. Pennsylvania established Centers of Excellence for Opioid Use Disorder to provide support services for individuals with opioid use disorder in 2016.

Three years later, Penn Medicine launched the Penn Addiction Center of Excellence to bring together researchers from the Radiology and Psychiatry departments to better understand and improve the treatment for opioid addiction. 

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