The Opioid Crisis in Philadelphia

The Opioid Epidemic is wreaking havoc in Philadelphia, especially in neighborhoods like Kensington. City officials can’t know for sure, but they estimate that tens of thousands of Philadelphians could be addicted to opioids. In the past three years, more than 3,000 people in Philadelphia have died from opioid abuse. Here are the statistics characterizing the Opioid Epidemic in the City of Brotherly Love:

  • 2017: 1,217 opioid deaths
  • 2018: 1,116 opioid deaths
  • 2019: 1,116 opioid deaths (estimated)

In order to stem the tide of opioid deaths, the city is redoubling its efforts through policy and program support. Hospitals throughout the city are finding success in expanding “peer specialist” initiatives. People farther along in addiction treatment receive training from the state, and they meet with newly recovering patients. Interacting with experienced individuals in recovery shows promising signs of increasing hospitals’ patient retention, leading to fewer deadly relapses.

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New Approaches: Working With Kensington

Programs at both Temple University Health System and Jefferson Health are expanding resources available to their addiction treatment facilities. Temple University’s hospital in Kensington, the epicenter of opioid abuse in the city, has significantly increased its prescription rate for buprenorphine, a drug which diminishes opioid addiction. When the Temple staff found that their facilities lacked the requisite space to handle the volume of people in need of treatment, they expanded their outpatient center from a facility with 11 treatment slots to one with 116.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Health and similar programs have relaxed previous policies based around restricting access to treatment. These changes increase family participation and avoid punishing people in recovery for missing meetings.


In general, the Philadelphia healthcare system is evolving to more thoroughly accommodate the specific needs of people struggling with opioid abuse. Previous policies have failed in their efforts to prevent thousands of deaths throughout the city. The move to more supportive policies has increased rates of outpatient program completion. For example, homeless shelters with more lenient rules started giving people shelter during the extremely cold days of 2018 and 2019. The shelters do not require any form of ID or any commitment to stay a full night.

Forcing people to stay in the shelter overnight often discourages the homeless population suffering from an opioid use disorder from using the shelter. In order to avert the effects of withdrawal, people will go outside to find opioids, so they’re driven towards avoiding overnight shelters where they may incur withdrawal symptoms because they can’t satisfy their cravings.


In problematic areas like Kensington, Narcan is being made more readily available. Narcan reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Tragically, members of the community in Philadelphia have come forward and told stories of loved ones and neighbors who they knew needed a dose of Narcan, yet did not receive any. Getting these tools into the hands of people in the neighborhood helps prevent people from suffering a fatal overdose when EMS services may not be able to reach them in time. Areas of Philadelphia like Kensington are also receiving support from mobile treatment centers that help prescribe medication for medically-assisted treatment.

Issues Surrounding The Opioid Crisis

City officials are designing programs to address some factors that contribute to the opioid supply and demand. Kensington residents cam now register for a lottery to select 20 people every week to help clean the streets. This program gives people $50 for around 4 hours of work to provide them a legitimate way to earn money rather than letting people become desperate enough to steal. Avoiding illegal habits can keep people avoid a pattern of behavior which might lead to drug abuse.

Gun violence related to opioids also threatens people in high risk areas. The high demand for opioids in areas like Kensington attract outside dealers who bring guns as a means of protection. Their presence leads to hostility with local dealers who start arming themselves in retaliation. As more desperate people gain access to guns, more shootings occur. Police in Kensington scramble to keep up with the escalating violence in the area propelled by the dire opioid situation.

Heightened levels of drug use and drug-related violence create a risky environment for kids in Kensington. A volunteer school escort program has stepped in to help school children walk to school safely. The sights of chronic homelessness and drug abuse are common in certain areas of Kensington, so volunteers try to shield the children from the harsh realities of their surroundings.

Philadelphia has a long way to go in 2020 in order to start lowering its opioid mortality rate. More diligent controls over prescriptions and more funding for treatment programs are strategies which show promise. Some treatment providers are excited about the apparent success of injection clinics in Canada. Once they become fully legal, Philadelphia may be a first city to adopt them in order to lower the risk of death from overdose in the city’s most at-risk areas.

Seeking Help

The opioid crisis continues to damage the lives of people of all kinds of people throughout the US. Addiction is not a moral issue. Rather, it is a disease. The more communities which treat it like a disease, the more success they’ve found with reducing the impact of addiction. If you struggle with addiction to opioids in Philadelphia or in any other city, it is important to reach out for help. Treatment professionals are available around the clock to help you get started on the road to recovery.

If you’re concerned about a loved one’s substance use disorder, you can still contact treatment providers. You are not alone in your struggles, so please do not try to fix it all by yourself. Help is available.

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Michael Muldoon

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  • Michael Muldoon earned a B.A. in Media Studies from Penn State University, but instead of shifting into an academic career in social science, he has decided to put his skills to work in the pursuit of helping those struggling with addiction.

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