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November 22, 2016

Kenney creates task force to address opioid epidemic in Philadelphia

With deaths due to drug overdoses on the rise, Philadelphia officials are searching for innovative methods to address the problem.

Mayor Jim Kenney unveiled plans Monday for a 16-member task force that will combat the city's opioid epidemic.

The city is currently on pace to have 840 drug overdose deaths this year, up from 701 in 2015. Approximately 80 percent of those deaths will involve opioids, such as painkillers, heroin and fentanyl.

“The opioid epidemic has been taking lives, destroying families and undermining the quality of life of Philadelphians across the city," Kenney said. “This is a significant social and public health challenge requiring a comprehensive, citywide approach.”

City health commissioners Drs. Arthur C. Evans, Jr. and Thomas Farley will oversee the task force, which will consist of representatives from city council, addiction experts, researchers, law enforcement officers and "persons with lived experience."

Evans, who serves as the city's behavioral health commissioner, noted that the problem can be addressed more effectively with the combined effort.

“Virtually everyone selected to serve on this task force has been immersed in this issue for a long time taking aggressive and strategic action to combat it but our efforts have been too fragmented,” Evans said.

In August, Evans and Farley issued a warning about a dangerous batch of heroin that was flowing into the city. The drug was laced with fentanyl, which is an extremely potent opioid 100 times stronger than morphine.

Currently, the city allows fire companies, EMTs and trained police officers to administer Narcan, a life-saving spray that stops the effects of opioids, to overdose victims. However, health officials maintain that strategy is not a solution to the problem.

On the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf identified the opioid epidemic as one of the biggest problems facing Pennsylvanians when he ran for office. After challenging lawmakers for better tools to combat the issue, Wolf signed a package of bills earlier this month to strengthen the state's policies.

Kenney's task force will meet twice a month beginning on Jan. 11. The committee will recommend a call to action within 90 days.

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