Overdose deaths increasing in Philadelphia, report says

Overdose deaths increasing in Philadelphia, report says
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A new report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health shows that unintentional deaths due to drug overdoses in the city are up.

The report, which looked at data from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office, found that deaths from drug overdoses last year were up 3 percent, from 1,116 in 2018 to 1,150 in 2019. However, that number is still lower than in 2017, when 1,217 overdose deaths were reported.

The majority of those deaths, the report said, were opioids. Opioids were involved in 84 percent of all deaths in 2019, the report said. Stimulants such as cocaine were detected in 50 percent of overdose deaths. And both stimulants and opioids were involved in 48 percent of overdose deaths.

In particular, fentanyl has become the main driver of overdose deaths, the report said. In 2010, fentanyl was involved in only 10 percent of drug overdoses in the city. In 2018, it was involved in 76 percent of all overdose deaths.

Between 2018 and 2019, overdose rates increased among all age categories except those between 45 and 54 years old. While overdose deaths increased among black non-Hispanics by 14 percent and Hispanics by 24 percent, the rate decreased by three percent among white non-Hispanics. The overdose death rate among males increased over the one year, and the rate stayed the same for females.

The department said several measures could be taken to decrease the overdose death rate – such as supporting ‘warm handoffs’ to drug treatment from hospitals, jails, and the community; increasing the distribution of naloxone to organizations serving at-risk populations; educating the public on how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone; and developing educational materials to discuss the risks of opioid and stimulant use, as well as overdose awareness, that takes into consideration the diversity of the city’s drug market.

The department also recommended increasing the availability of medication-assisted treatment through primary care practices and substance use treatment providers and the Philadelphia jails. According to the report, educating health care providers about opioid use disorder and better prescribing practices could also lower the overdose death rate.

Health care providers should also co-prescribe naloxone when they prescribe any opioids, the report said. Other steps health care providers should take were getting the necessary training to prescribe buprenorphine to opioid-dependent patients and start them on, or get them access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder; educating patients who use drugs on how to test their drugs for fentanyl; and providing sterile syringes to their drug-using patients to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

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