REPORT REVIEW: THE MAYOR’S TASK FORCE TO COMBAT THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC IN PHILADELPHIA
WHAT IS HAPPENING
Prescription opioid medications such as: Vicodin,
Percocet, OxyContin have fueled this current
Nationally 4 out of 5 new heroin users have their
first exposure to opioids via prescription pain
The opioid epidemic in Philadelphia has reached
epidemic levels in recent years due to the rise of
fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that began
appearing in that test results of opioid overdose
victims in 2014.
PRESCRIPTION OPIOID SALES
Drug Enforcement Agency(DEA) suggests that
opioid sales in Philadelphia doubled between
2000 and 2012.
Healthcare providers continue to prescribe large
quantities of pain medication than medically
Between 100,000 and 200,000 Philadelphians
receive more than one opioid pain medication
prescription each year.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health states
between 50,000 and 60,000 people misused a
prescription opioid pain meds in the last year.
90% of people who are prescribed opioids do not
transition to heroin use.
But the large number of people receiving prescription
opioids makes it easier for other individuals to make
The transition is likely to occur in Philadelphia-
Camden area due to the high purity and low cost of
There are an estimated 70,000 heroin users in
Likely more, does not include individuals who receive
care in a private treatment system.
14,000 people were treated for opioid use disorder
in Philadelphia’s system from October 2015 to
By 2016 Fentanyl was found in nearly half of overdose deaths
907 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia
during 2016. 702 in 2015 three times the number of
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine
Found in 412 drug overdose decedents
Fatal overdoses predominantly occur among Hispanic-
white males aged 45-54.
Consequence of older adults becoming dependent
on drugs due to the over-prescribing of opioids.
2014- PA Physician General Rachel Levine signed a
statewide “standing order” enabling any Pennsylvanian
to obtain naloxone from a pharmacy without an
Effect of drugs on families
and mental health
Increased health care
Loss of productivity at
Reduced quality of life
Increased crime and
Abuse and neglect.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome(NAS) may interfere
with a child’s brain development, mental functioning
NAS increased more than three-fold from 3 per
1,000 births (2002) to 11 per 1,000 live births
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), stressful or
traumatic events that are strongly related to the
development of a wide range of health problems.
The Philadelphia Urban ACE Study surveyed nearly
2,000 Philadelphians between 2012-2013. Data
40% of respondents experienced greater than or
equal to four ACEs.
Approximately 35% grew up with substance abuse
in their household.
Substance use becomes increasingly likely across
adolescence, rates peaking among people in
74% of adults 18-30 years old admitted to
substance use disorder treatment programs
began using at the age of 17 or younger.
IMPACT- CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Incarceration itself is a risk factor for developing substance use disorder.
Philadelphia Department of Prison processes 3,000 individuals for intake each year, averaging 6,000
people per day.
40% participate in behavioral health treatment (primarily pharmacological care)
17% who are mentally ill
14% living with Hepatitis C
3% living with HIV
14% tested positive for opioids (15% of females tested and 12% of males tested)
Pregnant women with opioid use disorder receive methadone for the duration of the pregnancy.
300 inmates receive methadone annually.
IMPACT- CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Opportunities for Prevention and Treatment Interventions for Offenders Needing Support (OPTIONS)
A cognitive behavioral treatment program that is offered withdrawal management support(detox)
1,500 people also participate in substance use disorder counseling through the OPTIONS program.
Inmates who participate in withdrawal management will experience reduced tolerance to opioids and are at
greater risk for overdose.
Dept. of Prisons provides withdrawal management 8,000 times annually
Of the 3,172 people who died of unintentional drug overdose from 2010-15, 782 (25%) were
incarcerated in Philadelphia Department of Prisons.
PHILADELPHIA TREATMENT COURT
The court is determined to treat substance use disorder as a root cause of criminal activity, providing an
alternative or supplement to normal proceedings.
Treatment Court can offer post-plea deals that deliver a network of treatment and supportive services:
Enrolled more than 4,800 participants and graduated more than 3,100 participants.
In the past five years 890 participants have accepted to Treatment Court representing 74% of all referrals.
Self reported opioid use increased from 22% in 2015 to 37% in March 2017.
78% of participants successfully completed Treatment Court in 2016.
Shown reduced recidivism when compared to drug offenders, reducing rates of re-arrest and re-conviction
from 6% to 26%.
THE MAYOR’S TASK FORCE- PROCESS
Taskforce composed of over 100 experts, stakeholders and community members.
Arthur C. Evans, Commissioner, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services
Thomas D. Farley, Health Commissioner, Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Formed 5 subcommittees
1. Public Education and Prevention Strategies
2. Service Access, Best Practices, and Treatment Providers
3. Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction
4. Justice System, Law Enforcement, and First Responders
5. Data Analysis and Sharing
Each subcommittee was lead by two co-chairs and met five times for two hours from January 18, 2017 to
March 20, 2017.
THE MAYOR'S TASK FORCE- COMMUNITY INPUT
The task force organized four community listening sessions over a two week period between January and
Sessions were held in the Northwest, North, South/West, Northeast areas of Philadelphia.
Total attendance for all four sessions was 463 community members. 116 people attended each session.
42 of Philadelphia’s 47 populated zip codes were represented.
86% of attendees have been directly impacted themselves or know someone directly impacted by the
84% reported that they felt seriously listened to by city officials and task force members on possible
THE MAYOR’S TASK FORCE- COMMUNITY INPUT
Common themes expressed at the four Community Listening Sessions:
Impose harsher restrictions on doctors illegally prescribing opioids
Improve monitoring of doctors distributing and prescribing opioids.
Increase early intervention and education opportunities for at-risk children and populations
Increasing Treatment Access and Availability
Increase medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder
Increase the length of time that individuals remain engaged in treatment.
Make available innovative alternative treatments for pain management, such as acupuncture and EEG biofeedback.
Establish drug-free communities so persons in recovery do not have to be tempted by drug dealers while participating in or after returning
Government Coordination and Communication
Facilitate partnerships between the city and communities in fighting the epidemic
Increase understanding and partnership between DHS and recovering mothers.
THE MAYOR’S TASK FORCE- MONITORING AND EVALUATION
Task Force recommended that the City establish high-level substance use surveillance program that would:
Develop an opioid epidemic data report to establish a baseline and monitor the epidemic.
Establish use of real time data to support a rapid response plan
Use data matched across departments to identify barriers and opportunities for optimal systems interactions with individuals.
Develop an evaluation plan to assess the progress and impact of the actions taken as a result of the Mayors Opioid Task
Developed a set of core metrics to monitor progress on the opioid epidemic:
Opioid prescription rate per1,000 population*
Buprenorphine prescription rate per 1,000 population*
Behavioral health treatment rate for patients with a primary diagnosis of opioid use disorder*
Medication-assisted treatment rate for patients with a primary diagnosis of opioid disorder*.
RECOMMENDATIONS- PREVENTION AND EDUCATION
4. Improve health care professional education
Healthcare professional school and provider organizations should require and have standard for broad,
competency-based training for all levels of health care professionals(dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists,
counselors and social workers).
Focusing on pain, pain management and substance abuse disorder.
The city should continue to encourage professional schools and organizations to share their curricula on pain
management and addiction.
National survey data shows that half of PCP are “very” concerned about the risk of substance use disorder or
death related to opioid use, fewer are concerned about tolerance, impaired cognition and sedation.
“In order to reduce the liberal prescribing of opioid pain medication, the city should support evidence-based
approaches to changing prescribing behavior.
Monitoring Metric: number of opioid pills sold
6. Increase the provision of medicated assisted treatment(MAT)
MAT is considered as a vital evidence-based treatment by numerous national professional organizations.
Integrating MAT into treatment settings will ease patients burden of navigating the complex treatment system.
All barriers to MAT should be identified and reduced.
Monitoring Metric: Publicly insured opioid use disorder clients participating in MAT.
10. Provide safe housing, recovery, and vocational supports
The city should work with other systems and elected officials to:
increase safe permanent supporting housing, recovery houses, vocational support and recovery support services.
Eliminate barriers to longer retention at treatment facilities
End housing discrimination against individuals enrolled in MAT
NIMBY(Not In My Backyard) is a major barrier to new treatment programs and engagement of elected officials is
There is a shortage of safe housing and vocational supports.
Not having affordable housing makes it more difficult to achieve good health.
Monitoring Method: Number of individuals housed that have opioid use disorder.
7. Expand treatment access and capacity
The Drug Enforcement Agency and National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimate that 122,000 and 150,000
Philadelphians are in need of substance use disorder treatment.
1. Increase the number of sites in the city offering addiction treatment services.
2. Expand weekend and evening operations for facilities at multiple levels of care.
3. Identify gaps in substance use disorder treatment capacity for special populations and increase capacity of treatment
slots and providers to engage these populations at all levels of care.
4. Partner with the state to resolve identification issues
5. Create a web-based database for the general public and provider access to identify available treatment slots in real time.
6. Integrate information on how to access treatment into public education campaigns
7. Expand the capacity of crisis centers and emergency departments. In Philadelphia to assess and treat individuals with
opioid use disorder.
8. Improve the quality of assessments for individuals entering treatment by adopting ASAM(American Society of Addiction
9. Increase use of peer recovery specialist to support individuals in their recovery throughout behavioral health and medical
Monitoring Method: People treated for opioid use disorder in the public behavioral health system.
RECOMMENDATIONS- OVERDOSE PREVENTION
12. Expand naloxone availability
Engage with government agencies, community based organizations, health care providers, and private citizens.
The use of naloxone by laypeople has been linked to reductions in overdose death rate.
Should be available to persons at risk of overdose through 4 main areas:
1. Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies such as fire, police, homeless outreach agencies
2. Harm reduction programs
3. Take-home programs from hospital emergency department, prisons discharge and opioid treatment programs
4. Direct request at pharmacies
Distribution centers should include training on:
Recognition of overdose
Administration of naloxone
Treatment service ability
Harm reduction messages
Monitoring Metrics: doses of naloxone distributed/administered, by agency/ Nonfatal drug overdoses treated in hospital emergency
depts./ Fatal drug overdoses
RECOMMENDATIONS- OVERDOSE PREVENTION
13. Further explore comprehensive user engagement sites(CUES)
Walk-in setting locations in which central services are provided to reduce substance use and fatal overdoses
Referral to treatment and social services
Medically supervised drug consumption
Access to sterile injection equipment and naloxone
Safe Consumption Facilities(SCF) have been operating in Europe, Australis and Canada since 1988 and have been show to:
Reduce overdose death, disease transmission (including HIV, Hepatitis C and B) injection related infections and other adverse
Serve as an access point for D&A treatment, medical services and housing services, reducing the burden on Emergency depts.,
Police, and Fire.
Improve public order and neighborhood safety by reducing public drug consumption and improper disposal of drug use
The pilot program should be rigorously evaluated for health and community outcomes to guide future decisions.
Monitoring Metrics: Community impact assessment
RECOMMENDATIONS- OVERDOSE PREVENTION
15. Address homelessness among opioid users
The city should expand outreach and specialized programs to meet the needs of individuals with opioid use
disorder who are homeless such as City’s Safe Heaven, Journey of Hope and Housing First programs.
Housing first provides access to housing for homeless individuals without restriction for those suffering
from substance use disorder.
This strategy has been proven to reduce homelessness, shelter costs and health care costs
Shown to increase substance use disorder and mental health treatment among its participants.
Successfully implemented in Canada and many United States cities including Philadelphia.
Monitoring Metric: Individuals with opioid use disorder placed in Safe Heavens and Housing First programs
RECOMMENDATIONS- INVOLVEMENT OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE
18. Provide Substance abuse disorder assessment and treatment in the Philadelphia Department of Prisons
PDP should provide substance abuse treatment to all inmates upon entry and comprehensive treatment
during incarceration with continuum of care plan upon release.
Should include a plan to obtain an identification card to facilitate treatment.
Treatment during incarceration increases:
Likelihood of engagement in treatment post-incarceration
Decreased overdose morbidity.
Inmates who participated in MAT were twice as likely to engage in treatment upon re-entry.
Monitoring Metric: Inmates for opioid use disorder while incarcerated/ Inmates with opioid use disorder released
with continuum of care plan.
Act 139 provides limited immunity from chare and prosecution for possession of drugs and drug
paraphernalia for individuals who experience drug overdose and are in need of medical care and for
those who seek medical care in good faith for a person experiencing an overdose so long as certain
conditions are met.
Provides limited immunity from charge and prosecution for certain drug crimes for both a person acting in good
faith who seek medical assistance for someone having a drug overdose and the person suffering from one.
Overdose rates in Pennsylvania have increased by 89% since 1999. In 2011 it had the 14th highest
overdose mortality rate in the country.
In 2014 Senate Bill 1164 was passed unanimously in the summer of 2014, signed by Governor Wolf on
September 30th, when it be came Act 139.
Dr. Rachel Levine , Pennsylvania Physician General signed standing order enabling any Pennsylvanian to
obtain Naloxone from a pharmacy with an individual prescription.
Immunity only applies to the following crimes
Unlawful possession of a controlled substance or counterfeit substance
Unlawful purchase or receipt of a controlled substance
The possession or non-sale distribution of 30 grams or less of marijuana or 8 grams or less of hashish
The use of, or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia
The delivery of, possession with intent to deliver or manufacture with intent to deliver, drug
The unlawful possession of more than thirty doses as a dispensed prescription of more than three trade
packages of anabolic steroids.