The City of Philadelphia released its most recent update on the Philadelphia Resilience Project last Wednesday, and it highlighted achievements made in areas such as increasing treatment options, reducing overdoses and reducing criminal activity since it was signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney. It also details future goals the initiative has yet to complete. The project was created by the mayor via an executive order signed into law last October, which activated 35 city departments, agencies and offices to work symbiotically on tackling the city’s opioid crisis based in Kensington and Fairhill.
“I am proud of the progress we’ve seen over the last eight months,” Kenney wrote in a letter included in the report. “The Resilience Project has helped increase access to services that were already working — like low-barrier shelter and treatment. It also spurred new approaches and helped us deliver services more effectively and efficiently. Throughout it all, countless City staff, elected officials, community organizations, residents, and business leaders have committed to being a part of the recovery of the Kensington and Fairhill communities.”
Also in his letter, Kenney cited the 8 percent decrease in fatal overdoses the city saw in 2018 from the previous year as evidence that the city’s outreach and education programs, treatment accessibility and availability of naloxone are making a dent in combating the epidemic. The report also highlights the closing of the last homeless encampment on Emerald Street in January of this year. Currently, Kensington’s homeless population is “about half of what it was in summer 2018,” the report says.
Increasing treatment options
The study says that since the encampment pilot started in spring 2018, two-thirds of all people the city interacted with had accepted some form of help, “whether it’s housing or drug or mental health treatment.” In 2018, according to the report, 150,000 Philadelphians participated in treatment funded by the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Community Behavioral Health, and more than 31,400 individuals utilized substance abuse treatment services. More than 16,000 of them were treated for opioid use disorder.
The city highlights Medication Assisted Treatment as being the most effective form of treatment for opioid abuse. It defines MAT as “the use of medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and vivitrol in combination with counseling and behavioral supports.” According to the city, research has shown a 75 percent reduction in mortality in patients treated with buprenorphine versus patients treated with psychosocial interventions alone. Because of the observed success of MAT, the city increased the number of types of sites that offer MAT. With the help of Prevention Point, mobile outreach capacity in the Kensington area was expanded.
Additionally, the city launched a treatment availability database in the DBHIDS website at dbhids.org/MAT, which provides near-real time information about the availability of beds for people who need “a residential level of care.”
According to the report, the city’s recovery house capacity has been expanded to 470 slots, including new low-barrier opportunities.
In addition to the 8 percent drop in fatal overdoses, the city has seen a similar drop in nonfatal overdoses. The city attributes this in part to the increased access of naloxone, a powerful antidote that reverses opioid-induced overdoses by blocking opiate receptors in the brain. Despite these encouraging numbers, the city acknowledges it still has a long way to go.
“The fatal overdose rate is still more than three times the homicide rate in the city and is completely unacceptable,” the report says.
Reducing criminal activity
Since the start of the project, 180 people were arrested while $262,000 worth of narcotics and 20 guns were taken off the street, the report stipulates. Additionally, something called the Safe Corridors program was created, which recruited 48 parents and other community members to be trained and volunteer to maintain that children who pass through “unhealthy and unsafe” areas of the city to attend school are looked out for.
“Volunteers patrol routes around schools at the start and end of the school day or to keep watch from their homes or businesses,” the report says. “Volunteers often work in teams, sharing information and reporting any suspicious or unusual activities.”
The report says that 50 new street lights at “known drug and opioid use hot spots” were installed to deter illegal activity and 606 abandoned automobiles were removed from the Resilience area.
Odds and ends
The city invested $8 million in new funding when the Resilience Project began, and plans to invest an additional $36 million in the project over the city’s five-year plan from fiscal years 2020 to 2024, $26 million of which will go to homeless services. Additionally, $6.5 million will go toward behavioral health services, $3 million will go toward community services and $500,000 to increase the capacity of the Medical Examiner’s Office.