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Like many major city populations, Philadelphians have been struggling to keep up with the damage caused by rampant opioid abuse. In 2017, nearly 90% of all drug overdoses in the city involved opioids, and because of the prescription aspect of this drug problem, it seems to be affecting all levels of society.
Oftentimes, drug crises involve illegal substances, which affords many law abiding citizens a sense of removal from the issue. Because opioids are legal and frequently prescribed, they pose a threat to members of society who don’t encounter as many addictive substances in their normal life.
In Philadelphia, nearly a third of the population knows someone who has died from opioid use. A Pew survey uncovered the extent to which the damage from the opioid epidemic has spread in the city. The survey took a number of factors into account: age, race, and location within Philadelphia.
Out of those surveyed, around 40% of white respondents knew an acquaintance, friend, or family member who had died as a result of opioid abuse. Their rate is significantly higher than Hispanic and black respondents who reported 27% and 21% respectively.
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When sorting the data by age, the 30 to 49-year-old range showed the highest likelihood of knowing a casualty. A staggering 42%, nearly half, of that age group responded that they knew a person who had died because of opioid use. By location, 64% of Philadelphians in River Ward reported negative effects on their lives and neighborhood because of opioid use. While these statistics show that some people and places within the city face the issue more directly, it’s being felt by everyone.
An economic study from the Bank of Philadelphia corroborates many points in the Pew survey. It also found that working age, white men were the most likely to die of opioid use. Men were also significantly more likely to die from opioid overdose than women, with a nearly 70% to 30% breakdown between the genders.
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While prescription opioids opened the door for an addiction to form, another drug has been killing more and more people each year. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, has been increasing been the cause of fatal opioid overdose in the city. The lethal dose of fentanyl is minuscule and mishandling a substance this dangerous or mixing it into other drugs often results in accidental overdose.
When overdosing on an opioid like fentanyl, the cause of death is most typically suffocation. The opioids block signals from your brain telling the lungs to breathe, which results in death after a few minutes. The primary way of reversing an opioid overdose is by administering a Naloxone nasal spray. It’s an extremely efficient and effective way to stop an overdose, but oftentimes it may be too late. Over 4,000 overdoses were treated with Naloxone in 2017 alone.
In response to the opioid crisis, mayor Jim Kenney has pushed for the implementation of overdose prevention sites (OPS). Also known as supervised injection facilities, an OPS would give addicted Philadelphians a place to use an opioid and receive help. Similar sites in Europe and Canada have proven to be effective in reducing overdoses, which is the primary goal in Philadelphia. The OPSs are also meant to help those addicted to opioids quit their habit and are staffed with people ready to administer Naloxone and get these people help ditching their addiction. The first OPS in North America opened in Canada in 2003 and has yet to see a single fatality, and it has even reduced the rate of overdose in the surrounding area.
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