Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jan 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


[photo] (JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer) Mayor Jim Kenney speaks to
the media after attending a meeting about the task force he's asked to
develop a plan to address the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, the meeting
took place at 801 Market Street, January 11, 2017.

Drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia surged to 900 last year - nearly a 30
percent increase in a single year - as the nation continued to grapple
with an epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

City health officials Wednesday announced the numbers as Mayor Kenney
convened a 16-member task force comprised of health and law officials.

"Hopefully, 2017 is the year we get our arms around this problem," Kenney
said. "Failure is no longer an option."

There were 277 homicides tallied in Philadelphia last year. The number of
drug overdoses was more than triple that number.

Opioids, whether prescription painkillers or illicit narcotics including
heroin, were implicated in about 80 percent of the overdose deaths,
according to Jeffrey Hom, a physician and policy adviser to Health
Commissioner Thomas Farley.

"No demographic has been unaffected by this crisis," Hom said. "No part of
the city has been spared."

Farley said the taskforce may consider filing suit against pharmaceutical
companies that manufacture and market prescription opioids. Overuse of
those drugs has fueled the opioid emergency, including the surge in heroin
abuse. Many users turn to the cheaper street drug to avoid withdrawal
symptoms when they can no longer get prescription pills.

In early December, opioids killed an unprecedented 35 people in
Philadelphia during a devasting five-day period. According to Hon,
toxicology tests revealed 23 of the victims had heroin in their systems.
Twenty-six tested positive for fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that
he described as the "third wave of the crisis."

Since 2013, fentanyl - which may be added to heroin with or without the
users' knowledge - has been implicated in "a steady and unrelenting rise"
in city overdoses, Hon said. Toxicology tests last year showed 50 percent
of all opioid deaths involved fentanyl to some degree.

The mayor's task force will meet every two weeks through April to address
the opioid epidemic, said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., commissioner of the
department of behavioral health.

Evans said the task force will review reports on the opioid crisis that
have been issued by other major American cities, determine how
Philadelphia's problems may be unique, and deliver a plan to battle the
crisis to Mayor Kenney in three months.

Meanwhile, advocates trying to save the Affordable Care Act from the
incoming Trump administration are citing what repealing the health law
would mean for people who need drug treatment.

A new analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
suggests that Pennsylvania could lose 30 percent of the federal funds it
now receives for rehab if the ACA is repealed. Without the law, the
state's uninsured rate would go up as residents lose access to private
insurance through the ACA marketplaces, as well as expanded Medicaid
coverage, according to HHS. Republicans have promised to replace the law,
but have not been specifics.
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