News from the Philadelphia Department of Health:
The latest CHART report announced that 2020 overdose deaths are 6% higher than 2019, overdose deaths in African Americans increased 29% since 2019, 81% of all overdose deaths included fentanyl, and fentanyl is present in a wider array of drugs than before
PHILADELPHIA–As reported in the latest CHART report, in 2020, 1,214 people died from drug overdose in Philadelphia. This is the second-highest number ever recorded, behind the 1,217 recorded in 2017. Prior to 2020, overdose deaths were highest among White people. However, in 2020 the number of overdoses among African Americans increased 29% while the number of overdoses among Whites decreased 10%. Fentanyl was involved in 81% of all drug deaths, including three-quarters of all cocaine-related overdoses. The number of overdose deaths involving methamphetamine and PCP increased, likely due to the increasing presence of fentanyl in those drugs.
“While the world has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdoses continue to wreak havoc across our city,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. “Increasingly, fentanyl is being found in all types of illegal drugs, exposing individuals who are not familiar with opioids to this deadly drug. This is why we continue to stress that anyone using any of these substances should never use alone, should have naloxone nearby, and use fentanyl test strips regularly.”
Drug overdose rates increased for all age groups over the age of 35, with the highest rates being found among those aged 55-64. Men saw a 26% jump in overdose death rates. Overdose rates increased 31% among African Americans and decreased 9% among Whites. Rates among Hispanics were similar from 2019 to 2020.
Overdose deaths happen throughout Philadelphia. While the 19134 zip code saw the highest number of overdoses, the number found in that zip code decreased by 22% from 2019. Increases in drug overdose deaths were found in Southwest, West, and North Philadelphia zip codes. Both the 19151 and 19144 zip codes had more than double the overdose deaths in 2020 than in 2019.
“As the CHART report shows, responding to the drug overdose crisis continues to be as urgent as ever,” said Noelle Foizen, Executive Director of the City’s Opioid Response Unit (ORU). “That is why we have all hands on deck from many City departments, all working as one team under the same strategy. The ORU is a coordinated command group that ensures that the City’s response to the opioid crisis will be efficient in order to save lives, promote the healing of communities, and break the cycle of the opioid epidemic.”
The CHART report highlights a number of efforts that the Health Department is undertaking to combat the rise in overdose deaths, even as the demographics of the epidemic are changing. In order to address this directly, the Health Department has already been:
- Soliciting input from and developing partnerships with groups serving African American and Hispanic communities,
- Providing mini-grants to seven organizations primarily led by people of color to build harm reduction capacity and provide overdose prevention awareness among the populations they serve,
- Increasing street outreach in Black and Hispanic communities, and
- Launching an awareness campaign about the presence of fentanyl in the stimulant drug supply.
The City continues to provide free training on overdose recognition and reversal with naloxone that the Health Department is distributing, and providing free training on testing drugs with fentanyl test strips that are also being distributed. The Health Department has also launched a campaign about the presence of fentanyl in non-opioid drugs.
For people who are ready to start treatment, the City has increased the availability of pharmacologic treatment for opioid addiction through primary care practices, specialized substance use treatment providers, and the Philadelphia jails. We are also providing health care providers with training, mentorship, technical assistance, and a 24/7 clinical consultation line to treat patients with opioid use disorder and answer questions about substance use.
With so many Philadelphians experiencing grief due to the loss of a loved one from substance use, the Health Department has announced a new series of free bereavement support resources. Help is available. This new website can direct people to peer support groups (including virtual), grief counseling, grief peers, grief workshops, and even support for clinicians and those who work in the substance use field. Those who are grieving can also share their stories in order to help inform how the City can help prevent future overdose deaths.
The City makes current data on substance use, misuse, and overdose trends in Philadelphia available on a dashboard at https://www.substanceusephilly.com. Residents can request naloxone by visiting https://www.phillynaloxone.com.