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Collaboration Can Lead to Change

By David T. Jones

What’s happening along Gurney Street is something to be celebrated.

In just over two weeks since the clean-up project began along a stretch of land owned by Conrail in the Kensington-Fairhill community, more than 250 tons of waste and debris have been removed and fencing is going up to prevent people from becoming injured on or near the railroad tracks.  In addition, the fencing serves as a barrier to prevent gathering in the area where folks had engaged in dangerous and unhealthy behavior.  In this instance the “C “word, collaboration between City agencies and private partners, has made the difference — the once blighted landscape is no more.

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Mayor Addresses Opioid Crisis in Philadelphia

On Nov. 22, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the formation of a Task Force to combat the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia. The epidemic of abuse, addiction and overdose from opioids is a national crisis that now claims the lives of more than 28,000 Americans each year. Philadelphia is projected to have 840 drug overdose deaths in 2016, an increase from 2013 and nearly three times the number of homicides in the city. Eighty percent of those overdose deaths will involve opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

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

The task force will be co-chaired by two City Commissioners, Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Dr. Thomas Farley, Department of Public Health. It will be comprised of 16 members with representatives from a broad section of stakeholders who are affected by the epidemic including representatives from all relevant city departments and city council, addiction experts, researchers, physicians, business and community groups, persons with lived experience, state and federal government, and law enforcement.

“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,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., Commissioner of DBHIDS. “Coming together as a single unit will allow us to harness our collective expertise and put us in a stronger position to make an impact in response to an unprecedented epidemic that for multiple years has claimed more lives in Philadelphia than gun violence.”

This summer, commissioners Evans and Farley issued a city wide warning that a dangerous heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl was circulating in Philadelphia. The drug combo killed at least 28 people between March 3 and April 20. Fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid is 100 times stronger than morphine. “We need everyone to help us solve this problem by reducing the number of people who become addicted, getting people who are addicted into treatment, and preventing fatal overdose in users who are not yet in treatment” said Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley.

The Task force will work through five sub-committees that will include additional members:

  1. Comprehensive data collection and sharing
  2. Public education and prevention strategies
  3. Justice system, law enforcement, and first responders
  4. Service access, best practices, and treatment providers
  5. Overdose prevention and harm reduction

The task force will meet semimonthly for three months starting Jan. 11. They are charged with developing a comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce opioid abuse, dependence and overdose in Philadelphia and draft a report of findings and recommendations for action to the Mayor within 90 days of their first meeting.

Covering the Opiate Epidemic

Amid the national outcry over an epidemic of opiate addictions and overdoses, and loud new debates over access to, coverage for and efficacy of medical and behavioral treatments, many journalists find themselves covering opiates more than ever before — and trying to develop new ways to pitch stories about substance use disorders. To help journalists and news organizations improve their coverage of all aspects of the current opiate crisis — and take more modern approaches to the age-old stories in substance use — WHYY is organizing a free two-day workshop “Covering the Opiate Epidemic.” The workshop is funded by the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation. WHYY has had a dedicated behavioral health reporter since 2008, and has established itself as a leading newsroom in terms of covering mental health.

The workshop will take place Nov. 18 and 19, at WHYY in Philadelphia, and will feature a range of local and national substance use disorder and mental health policy experts, researchers, as well as award-winning journalists who have covered this epidemic in-depth.

The first day of the workshop, Friday, Nov. 18, provides an immersion into the medical, scientific, political and social issues and trends involved in the opiate epidemic. Speakers include: Roland Lamb, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services; Dr. Leana Wen, Commissioner of Health, Baltimore City; Dr. Carlos Blanco, Director of the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); Joshua D. Lee MD, MSc, Associate Professor in Medicine and Psychiatry; Kathleen Myers, Ph.D, Treatment Research Institute; and Michael A. Ashburn, MD, MPH, MBA.

For further information, call 215-928-2459 during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or email


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