Philadelphia Drug Crisis


Philadelphia has been one of the hardest hit cities in the United States by the drug crisis. With more than 130 people dying each day due to overdosing on opioids, it is no surprise that President Trump declared a national emergency.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 700,000 Americans have died from drug overdose between the years of 1999 and 2017.  Approximately 68% of the 70,200 overdose deaths in 2017 were due to opioids, including pain medications obtained legally through prescriptions or illegally, as well as from heroin. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that prescription medications were involved in 218,000 of the total fatalities.

Faced with the terrifying fact that the well-known city of Philadelphia is overcome by the drug crisis and people are dying every day; politicians, law officials, medical professionals, advocates, and residents are working tirelessly to get ahead of the problem. Their hard work and dedication to the people of Philadelphia have begun to pay off. 2018 was a landmark in Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, Health Officials said this is the first time in at least five years that overdose deaths have declined. This is because of public education as well as early intervention. Throughout the year thousands of doses of Narcan, the lifesaving overdose reversal spray, were handed out in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods. As well as more people entering into treatment programs in 2018.

Philadelphia Overdose Rates Shockingly High

While there has been a decrease, Philadelphia’s overdose death rate is still shockingly high. In 2018, an estimated 1,100 people had died due to a drug overdose, the large majority due to Opioid and Opioid synthetic drugs. While still at Crisis level, the total number of deaths is down compared to 1,217 deaths in 2017. Health officials see this as a turning point for Philadelphia and hope that 2019 will see a greater improvement.

With the drop in drug overdose deaths reported there are some questions to if there has been a drop in drug use itself. Some believe it is thanks to the 21,000 doses of Narcan that the city handed out in 2018. The cities first responders and emergency departments also saw fewer non-fatal overdoses. However, it can all be deceiving as many bystanders and drug users administered the lifesaving Narcan doses themselves which means those overdoses were never counted and it could be the total opposite effect with an increase in drug abuse and non-fatal overdose cases.

The Epicenter of the Epidemic in Philly

In 2018 the city turned its attention to Kensington, the epicenter of the epidemic in Philadelphia. Advocates and city officials are working to reach those will less apparent addictions, not receiving treatment and at risk of becoming another fatality. Many of the South Philly neighborhoods have seen an increase in overdose deaths. In these areas, addiction itself is rarely spoken of in public and there is a lack of resources to help those in addiction.

Since 2018, the city has placed unprecedented resources into opening drug treatment and shelter space, clearing camps of homeless people in addiction from sidewalks, and distributing Narcan. While these efforts are made to combat the problem in neighborhoods like Kensington, the reality of the drug crisis have been made clear after efforts to clear the camps of over 100 people, the population doubled over the summer of 2018 to 703.

A Disaster Over a Public-health Crisis

In the fall of 2018, Mayor Jim Kenney declared a disaster over a public-health crisis in a city neighborhood. City officials have since worked to meet immediate goals that include clearing a major drug encampment, launching a mobile drug-treatment team, and conducting a large-scale neighborhood cleanup. The city is now offering easier access to addiction treatment, with a 24-hour treatment center that opened in Spring Garden this year.  The city also has seen an increase in addicts coming to Prevention Point, the city’s only needle exchange, here staffers reverse dozens of overdoses each week. Philadelphia’s progress in the drug crisis mirrors that of many people in addiction, struggling to recover. It is a slow, painful, and complicated process, but has seen great progress throughout the past year and is expected to see a positive change in the upcoming year.

Philly’s 24-hour treatment center

Getting someone suffering from addiction to a treatment program only happens when they are ready for help. This can be a brief moment in time, especially for someone suffering from Opioid addiction. Once the painful symptoms of withdrawal begin, the addict could turn back to the drug to find relief. When these urges to use and stop the pain occur, waiting on a treatment center to open its doors is often out of the question. The thought of detoxing in an emergency centers waiting room or trying to find treatment options available to you while experiencing nausea, vomiting, pain, and cravings can easily take away anyone’s will to get sober, regardless to how much they want it.

This is why city officials decided to partner with Access Point, a 24-hour treatment center. Those who have been deterred by the long wait lines at the emergency center, crisis center, and other 9-5 treatment centers, will find the help that they so desperately want and need. The nonprofit has a staff of nurses, behavioral health providers and peer support staff, who assess drug users, stabilize them, give the first dose of medication-assisted treatment. They then enroll and transport individuals to a recovery center within 23 hours or less. The city is currently at 74 percent capacity of more than 12,000 medication-assisted treatment slots, this will allow them to help 3,000 additional drug users.

Readily Available Treatment to Philadelphians

In the past, there have been roadblocks preventing those in need from getting treatment. Since the city has made the changes needed to get those ready for treatment into a treatment facility without any issues by waiving ID requirements and making Access Point a 24-hour treatment center available to them.

Immediate access to treatment if the key. There is only a short window of opportunity to get people into treatment before their addiction and cravings cloud their judgment. Sheila Ford, NET’s community outreach coordinator, and her team have helped bring in at least 40 individuals from the Kensington tunnel encampment. They have taking individuals from homeless addiction to recovery with the help of Access Point.

This new, readily available, treatment option is going to help the people of Philadelphia overcome the drug crisis.

Helping a Loved One Who Suffers from Addiction

“When individuals are ready, that window of opportunity can be very narrow,” said David T. Jones, commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. “This means mothers, fathers or caregivers can get in the car and bring their loved one in as soon as they say they want treatment, no excuses.”

It can be challenging, to say the least, when trying to help a loved one who is suffering from addiction. When they come to you and say they are ready to help you need to seize the opportunity and make contact with a treatment facility to get them in as fast as possible. This is because addiction comes with withdrawal which tricks the mind into thinking the only way to stop the pain and cravings is to use again. Getting your loved one into a treatment program will afford them the opportunity to withdrawal from drugs with medication and proper care, moving them onto a treatment program that will help equip them with the tools needed to overcome their addiction are create a healthy and happy life for themselves in recovery.

The Addiction Treatment Process

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease.  Long-term drug use causes significant changes in the way the brain works, This can make it nearly impossible for even the most determined person to stop compulsive drug-using behaviors without professional treatment.

The addiction treatment process is intended to help individuals to stop the compulsive and damaging use of drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction treatment takes place in various settings, incorporating several different types of therapies and medications, depending on the individual’s needs. The objective of addiction treatment is to help individuals to stop using drugs and/or alcohol by providing the necessary support they need to return to their families and daily lives with the relapse prevention tools needed to maintain their sobriety. For some, multiple treatment episodes are needed to achieve their goals and move onto living a healthier and happier life in recovery.


When abruptly stopping the use of drugs and/or alcohol the body begins to go through withdrawal, this is a series of physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can cause pain and cravings so intense that you will want to turn back to your substance of choice for comfort.

Common Symptoms of Withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal cramping / Diarrhea
  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Restlessness / Irritability
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Shallow Breathing
  • Heachaches
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Heart Palpitations / Irregular Heartbeat
  • Muscle Tension / Aches
  • Twitching
  • Sweating
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny Nose
  • Hallucinations
  • Stroke

Most people must complete the detoxification process before moving onto a substance abuse treatment program. The detox process helps the body rid itself of the harmful chemicals and toxins related to drug and/or alcohol abuse. Medical detox is used to manage acute withdrawal symptoms with non-addictive medications.

Detox is a very important step in the treatment process, it allows you to combat the physical challenges of addiction (withdrawal) before moving onto the psychological and behavioral aspects of your addiction.


Ongoing treatment is the key to overcoming addiction and maintaining lifelong sobriety. Your treatment can take place in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program depending on your individual needs. During the treatment process, you will address psychological and behavioral problems that contribute to your addiction with a licensed therapist and other professionals. Throughout your treatment, you will implement important relapse prevention strategies that will aid you in your goal of lifelong sobriety.

Key treatment principals to aid in your recovery include but are not limited to:

  • Behavioral therapies
  • 12-step work
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Substance abuse education
  • Nutritious meals
  • Physical exercise, meditation, and yoga
  • Alternative therapies

Most treatment programs operate on a 30 to 90-day schedule. Depending on the level of care that is needed to treat your addiction, you may be able to continue to live in your home and manage your daily life without interruption.

Inpatient Vs.Outpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient Treatment Programs offer 24/7 supervised care, you will live onsite and have professionals available to you at all times if needed. Your daily schedule will consist of meditation, group and individual counseling, exercise, meal times, and personal time. The treatment program will run 30 to 90 days on average.

Outpatient Treatment Programs allow you more flexibility. You will be able to continue to live at home, work and/or attend school. At a location near your home, you will attend various treatment sessions consisting of individual therapies, family therapies and group therapies over a span of 8 to 12 weeks.

Sober Living

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for substance abuse are between 40 and 60 percent. Making relapse prevention an essential part of the recovery process. Throughout the rehab stay, you will have learned relapse prevention skills, once treatment is completed you will have to put those practices into action.

Sober living houses, or transitional house, is an option for those newly discharged from rehab. Sober living housing provides recovery support services to help you successfully make the transition into a sober lifestyle and to continue to maintain your sobriety when back in the ‘real world’ after rehab.

Starting Addiction Treatment

It is never too late to start addiction treatment. Despite the severity of your addiction, if you want to get sober there is help available to you that will allow you to work through the physical, psychological and behavioral problems associated with your addiction.

You may feel as if all hope is lost, nothing in the past has worked for you there for nothing new will work either. This is far from the truth. Your addiction does not define you, you can start addiction treatment today and begin working towards your ultimate goal of lifelong sobriety.