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DBHIDS Offers Help to Our Community on National Depression Screening Day

By David T. Jones
Commissioner,
DBHIDS

According to Mental Health America, one of the nation’s leading community-based nonprofits dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, one in five adults have a mental health condition — that’s more than 40 million Americans, or the populations of New York and Florida combined.

One of the most prevalent mental health conditions is depression, a disease of the mind that, if untreated, can have severe or even fatal effects on those who live with it, the people who know and love them, and even innocent strangers. That’s why we were pleased to once again participate in the 2017 National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) on Thursday, October 5. Held each October during Mental Illness Awareness Week, NDSD features of variety of events and awareness activities such as free depression screening. Throughout the day, DBHIDS staff and our partners were stationed in nearly 20 sites across the city offering people an opportunity to get a “check-up from the neck up” because we wholeheartedly believe that a person’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. In all, more than 100 people received a free screening through our NDSD event, getting access to services and information to help assess the state of their mental health.

Read more

FULL LIST: National Depression Screening Day Is Today

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thursday is National Depression Screening Day, a free opportunity for people to be checked for a mental health issue that millions struggle with.

Shaiheed Days, 28, has struggled with depression since he was a little boy.

“Sadness, you feel stuck. You feel unrelatable. You feel yucky,” said Days.

He was taken from his drug-addicted mother, separated from siblings and put in an abusive foster home.

But now he’s finally found healthy ways to cope. Days is active with support groups, friends and traveling.

He’s also helping others in his job at the Department of Behavioral Health.

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But experts say not enough people are getting the message of hope and healing that people can learn to live with depression and thrive.

“I think there’s still some stigma attached to talking about mental health struggles, so some folks think they have to just take it and live with it, and that help and hope couldn’t possibly be available, and if it is, it’s not something that I can ask for because people might find out,” said Dana Careless, a counselor with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability.

Careless says the depressions screenings are private and anonymous and important for people struggling–now with the added pressure that comes from social media.

“People are posting pictures on social media that are airbrushed and photoshopped and filtered and they might be thinking, God, my life looks nothing like that. What if they saw me in my pajamas for the 6th day in a row?” said Careless.

In Philadelphia, the following locations are holding depression screenings Thursday, October 5:

Temple Health System – Temple University Episcopal Campus, 100 E Lehigh Avenue, Fox Conference Room, Philadelphia PA 19125 – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

La Colombe Coffee Roasters – Patio at 100 South Independence Mall (on the corner of 6th and Market Streets), Philadelphia, PA 19106 – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

Citizens Acting Together Can Help (CATCH) – 2221 Broad Street, Starbucks, Philadelphia, PA 19145 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

JFK Behavioral Health – 1801 Diamond Street, Church of the Advocates Philadelphia, PA 19121 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

Jefferson Narcotic Addiction Rehabilitation Program (NARP) – 1200 Catherine Avenue, Hawthorne Park, Philadelphia, PA 19147 – 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Northeast Community Center – 4670 Roosevelt Boulevard, Chick-fil-A Northeast Tower, Philadelphia PA, 19124 – 10:00 am to 1:00 pm ,

Elwyn – 201 S. 40th Street, Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA 19104 – 11:00 am to 3:00 pm

theVillage – 6517 Chester Avenue, outside of the Preheim Center, Philadelphia, PA 19142 – 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm

COMHAR Behavioral Health – 260 W. Lehigh Avenue, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Philadelphia, PA 19133 – 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Jefferson Station – Next to Tiffany’s Bakery on Market Street between 10th and 12th Streets (enter at 12th and Market Streets), Philadelphia, PA 19107 – 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Belmont Behavioral Health – Aria Jefferson-Health lobby area, 4900 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19124 – 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

People Acting to Help (PATH) – 8220 Castor Avenue, 4th Floor, PATH Inc., Philadelphia, PA, 19152 – 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Silver Springs Martin Luther School – 7208 Germantown Avenue, Silver Springs Community-Based Programs, Philadelphia, PA 19119 – 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm

SPIN Inc. – 10980 Norcom Road, SPIN Community and Fitness, Philadelphia, PA 19154 – 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm


Delaware’s Mental Health Association is hosting several days of free depression screenings. All dates are Thursday, October 5 unless otherwise noted. More information on Delaware screenings can be found at http://bit.ly/2xfxWC5

Career Team – 964 Justison St., Wilmington, DE 19801 – 8:00 am to 11:30 am

Mobile Crisis Intervention Services – 700 Main Street, Ellendale, DE 19941 – 8:00 am to 6:00 pm

Easter Seals – 22317 duPont Highway, Georgetown, DE 19947 – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

Ministry of Caring Hope House I (Friday 10/13) – 1103 W. 8th St., Wilmington, DE 19806 – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

Mobile Crisis Unit – 1901 N Dupont Hwy, New Castle, DE 19720 – 9:00 am to 1:00 pm

AIDS Delaware – 100 West 10th Street, Suite 315, Wilmington, DE 19801 – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

La Red Health Center – 21444 Carmean Way, Georgetown, DE 19947 – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Joseph Patrick Fabber Memorial Foundation – 401 N. Bedford St., Georgetown, DE 19947 – 9:00 am to 7:00 pm

Beautiful Gate Outreach – 604 Walnut Street, Wilmington, DE 19801 – 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Neighborhood House INC. – 1218 B Street, Wilmington, DE 19801 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

Brandywine Community Church – 2200 Market St., Wilmington, DE 19802 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

Christiana Care – Wimington – 501 West 14th St., Wilmington, DE 19801 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

SODAT – Delaware INC. – 625 N. Orange Street, Wilmington, DE 19801 – 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

A.C.E. Peer Resource Center – 20707 Dupont Blvd., Georgetown, DE 19947 – 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Partners in Health & Wellbeing – 16394 Samuel Paynter Blvd. #202, Milton, DE 19968 – 10:00 am to 11:00 am and 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Delaware Technical Community College – 21179 College Dr., Georgetown, DE 19947 – 11:30 am to 1:00 pm

Partners in Health & Wellbeing – 260 Chapman Rd., Suite 100-B, Newark, DE 19702 – 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Easter Seals- 61 Corporate Circle, New Castle, DE 19720 – 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Goldey Beacom College – 4701 Limestone Road (Thompson Lounge), Wilmington, DE 19808 – 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm

North Wilmington Library – (Saturday 10/7) – 3400 N. Market St., Wilmington, DE 19802 – 11:00 am to 3:00 pm

A.C.E. Peer Resource Center (Tuesday 10/10) – 547 N. Bradford Street, Seaford, DE 19973 – 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Newark Senior Center (Wednesday 10/11) – 200 White Chapel Drive, Newark, 19713 – 11:00 am to 3:00 pm

Ministry of Caring House of Joseph (Thursday 10/12) – 1328 W. 3rd St., Wilmington, DE 19805 – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm


A state-by-state list for National Depression Screening Day can be found HERE.

Can’t get to a location for National Depression Screening Day? You can take a screening anonymously, HERE.

Several communities in our area are holding free depression screenings on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Some have additional screening days and times as well. You can find out more, HERE.

Philly Participates in Depression Screening Day

By Erin Coleman


NBC10’s Erin Coleman speaks with Dana Careless, the director of health promotion at Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services, to talk about the signs of depression and where you can go for a free, anonymous screening. Find a location for National Depression Screening Day events.

Philadelphians Share Their Stories About How the ACA Has Helped Them

By Josh Kruger
Department of Public HealthOffice of the Mayor
A father sits in a hospital waiting room with his young son resting on his lap.

More than 200,000 Philadelphians benefit from the Affordable Care Act — more than 160,000 through the Medicaid expansion and about 60,000 through the ACA’s marketplace.

If the ACA is repealed, these people could all lose their health insurance and have no way to pay for medical care.

They’re not the only ones who’ll be affected, either. If Congress repeals the ACA, most adults and children in Philadelphia who have private healthcare coverage will lose protections the ACA provides. Protection like no-cost preventive care, coverage of preexisting conditions, and equal coverage of behavioral health issues like addiction.

The stakes are high for all of us.

We asked Philadelphians to share their stories. Here’s what a few of you had to say. Read more

Fixing Philly – Caring for Those Leaving ‘El Campamento’

Today, Monday, July 31, the city and Conrail, will begin clearing out a Kensington site known as “El Campamento,” a camp that leads to a half-mile area along the railroad tracks that have long been a haven for heroin users looking to shoot up and hide from police.

As detailed recently in Time magazine, the area has been a problem for city officials and local residents for years until the city recently formed an agreement with Conrail that would see the area cleared by the end of this month. On Friday, city officials said that as this week’s clean-up gets underway, the city will also provide a temporary social services hub to help those struggling with addiction at the site at least until Wednesday, July 2.

But, what happens after that?

According to David T. Jones, the newly appointed head of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Philadelphia has capacity at its shelters for any heroin user who sees the end of El Campamento as the first step towards rehabilitation.

“We have capacity in our system to meet that need. Right now, we have capacity across the board,” he said, saying his office has been working with Conrail to anticipate the needs of those that will be pushed out of that area.

Jones’ department is funded to the tune of about $1 billion a year and, along with addiction services, the department manages the city’s mental health services and disability services, as well. And, that’s important, because, Jones said, it takes a rounded approach to be able to address issues of opioid addiction.

Along with needing to kick a drug addiction, Jones said, those who might have regularly visited El Campamento will likely need, what he called “social determinants,” which would include shelter, nutritional needs and food security and help building healthy relationships. To do this, he said, his department is set to help connect those who come to them for help breaking the cycle of opioid addiction with the many different organizations that work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services.

“We have been really thoughtful and we are really going to try and make all of those connections across life’s domain,” Jones said, for those leaving El Campamento.

Also, he said, a big part of helping rehabilitate someone who is coming out of an addiction to an opioid like heroin is helping them find a support system – something he called ‘families.” And, he noted, that sometimes, “families” don’t mean just a person’s blood-related kin.

“We are trying to connect them to some type of family unit,” said Jones. “We have families that we are born into and we have families that we create. We are talking about families in the broadest sense.”

Finally, when asked if the controversial topic of safe injection sites were an idea that might help Philadelphia combat its opioid crisis, Jones said that his office is now looking at new strategies to make a dent in the problem, and safe injections sites are an idea that they are considering.

“We are looking at all strategies that will help people in their recovery and safe injections sites are one of those strategies that we are looking at,” he said. “We are exploring that as a strategy.”

Leaving Philly Jail With Mental Illness, Five Days’ Medication – and Now, a Fighting Chance

by Samantha Melamed, Staff Writer @samanthamelamed

It’s been four weeks since Shatara Gillette was released from a Philadelphia jail with five days’ medication for her bipolar disorder. Her medical assistance still hasn’t been activated, so it’s been more than 20 days since she last took her medication.

That has Gillette, 27, worried.

“I feel OK for right now,” she said, after a group meeting in August at Why Not Prosper, a residential program in Germantown for women leaving prison. She was sent there after 10 months in jail on a drug charge that’s still pending; she’s also facing charges from 2008 that have not been heard because she was repeatedly deemed incompetent to stand trial. “But I don’t want to go back to the bad behavior that happens when I’m not on my medication. I’m trying not to go back to that.”

 Prison administrators say it’s a familiar cycle among the 30,000 people released from Philadelphia jails each year with five days’ medication and no medical coverage. Getting benefits restored after incarceration can take weeks or even a few months – long enough for people to relapse.

“Most people are not on medications, and are destabilized when they come in,” said Bruce Herdman, chief of medical operations at the jails. “We do a pretty good job tuning them up. But up until now, it’s been so frustrating, because we help people get healthy, and we send people out and they don’t have the resources to maintain their health.”

That’s about to change though. A slew of new city- and state-level initiatives will preserve Medicaid benefits for people who have them, and sign up more of those who don’t – in particular, those leaving jail with serious mental illness and chronic disease. Together, advocates say, these efforts can decrease recidivism, save taxpayers money, and maybe even save lives.

 Right now, three-quarters of all men and women arriving at Philadelphia jails are on drugs. About 28 percent have hypertension, diabetes, or significant seizure disorder. About a thousand each year will be treated for HIV. Fourteen percent have serious mental illness, and 40 percent will require psychotropic medication; Herdman notes the prison system is effectively the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.But only about 8 percent, at last count, had health insurance – all of it Medicaid. Right now, that benefit is terminated in Pennsylvania when people are imprisoned; but, starting in November, it will instead be suspended for up to two years.

That’s important because applying for new coverage upon release takes time. “Eliminating the gap, that can be 45 or even 90 days, can make the difference in stabilizing people,” state Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said.

It’s a fix more states are making. But it required a political and culture change – and, above all, technological upgrades.

“The biggest issue is you have these very large IT systems that determine eligibility, and getting changes to them, it’s not always an easy thing,” he said.

In the interim, a series of pilot programs at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons are focused on specific, high-need groups being released from jail.

One is targeting people with serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. They’re significantly more likely to be rearrested than other inmates, and they stay in jail an average of 25 days longer, according to the department’s statistics.

Through the pilot, people with serious mental illness can get Medicaid within two days of their release. And, they’re connected with a forensic peer specialist from the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) to help with everything from reconnecting with family to securing housing and benefits.

“If you’re not able to reconnect within the first 72 hours, it becomes more difficult,” said H. Jean Wright II, of DBHIDS. “This is a way of getting to a group of people who have historically fallen through the cracks.”

So far, he said, 45 people have gone through the program, with only four rearrests. Given that 38 percent of Philadelphia jail inmates are re-incarcerated within a year, that’s a remarkable success.

At the same time, Corizon, a contractor that provides health care in the jails, is running a separate pilot to connect people with chronic physical illnesses with Medicaid.

“These aren’t diseases that you cure, but you would reduce the number of times people get incarcerated,” Herdman said. “Say someone has a seizure disorder, and they are medicated when released and continue their medication. They can go to work without having their illness interfere. But if they don’t fill the prescription, maybe they have a seizure, they don’t show up for work, they lose their job and then go back to street crime.”

And, Kriya Patel, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, recently obtained funding to run a similar pilot at Riverside Correctional Facility, the city’s jail for women. She learned about the issue from Kathleen Brown, a nursing professor who runs programming with Why Not Prosper.

The female jail population is especially needy, Herdman notes: 25 percent have serious mental illness, and 60 percent use psychotropic medication.

For everyone else leaving the jails – and there are thousands each month, leaving at all hours of the day and night – reentry services providers are cobbling together resources as best they can.

One manifestation of that is a trailer just outside the walls of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail. The trailer is dingy on the outside, but the interior is newly renovated and, on a visit this summer, blissfully air conditioned. It hosts, among other resources, a row of computers set up for people to fill out medical assistance applications and, once a week, a state Human Services enrollment specialist to help.

But in its first month, it saw fewer than 100 visitors.

“Right now, it’s really slow,” conceded William Hart, who works for the city’s reentry program, RISE, connecting employers with a workforce of ex-offenders. He’s finding it’s hard to get people to stop in on their way out of jail. “The guys call it sidewalk therapy. They’re looking to get out of here and walk the pavement.”

Soon maybe they won’t have to.

Thanks to Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania in 2015, almost everyone passing through Philadelphia jails is eligible for coverage. Herdman said efforts are underway to presume eligibility for all inmates and fill out applications for them as part of the discharge process.

But coverage alone isn’t enough, said Maureen Barden, who’s been working on the issue with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and agencies around the state. It’s just the first step.

“The handoff to services in the community is a tremendously important part, which is still to be implemented in most places. Getting people the [insurance] card is not going to be enough for most people to turn the tide and have them not return to jail,” she said. “Connection to care as this movement goes forward will be recognized as an increasingly important thing.”

Philadelphia Taking Fentanyl Fight to the Streets

Fentanyl is killing more and more people in Philadelphia, and most people who take the drug don’t even know they are taking it, health officials said Friday.

Overdose deaths from fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, have risen sharply in the city over the past several years. And the problem, which looks to be getting worse, requires a new strategy to combat it, they said.

“This is the most significant epidemic that this country has seen, in regards to opioids,” said Dr. Arthur Evans, Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health Commissioner.

Most people who take fentanyl think they are taking heroin.

A synthetic, short-acting opioid originally developed for medical use during surgery or for acute pain relief, fentanyl is often sold as heroin to users or mixed with heroin by dealers to create a more intense euphoria. But the combination of drugs also promotes drowsiness, nausea and confusion. That combination of effects, and fentanyl’s rapid potency, is especially dangerous as users may not realize how much they’re taking.

That makes it much more likely for a user to stop breathing and die from an overdose.

At City Hall on Friday morning, Evans joined Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, and Jeremiah Laster, deputy fire commissioner for emergency medical services, to raise awareness about the disturbing rise in usage and overdose deaths both locally and nationally.

Deaths by overdose of all drugs in Philadelphia grew by 50 percent, from 459 in 2013 to 701 in 2015, the officials said. During that same period, fentanyl overdose deaths grew by more than 600 percent, from 23 in 2013 to 184 in 2015.

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During a press conference on Friday, Philadelphia health officials Dr. Arthur Evans, Jeremiah Laster and Dr. Thomas Farley said overdose deaths from the drug fentanyl are rising dramatically.

Already, Farley said, in the first four months of 2016, fentanyl-related overdose deaths are up 17 percent over the same period last year. Of the 262 overdose deaths so far this year, he said, 99 of them — about 38 percent — were due to fentanyl. In the first four months of 2015, by comparison, about 20 percent of overdose deaths were attributed to fentanyl.

“This is a drug that is far more likely to kill you than heroin is,” said Laster.

According to Farley, one of the most difficult things about fighting this epidemic is that most people who use the drug have no idea that they are using it.

“Probably, most of them think they are buying heroin,” he said.

And while Narcan, a life-saving heroin antidote, also can be effective at arresting the effects of fentanyl overdose, health officials downplayed it as a solution.

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Fentanyl, shown at top in brick form, is often mixed with heroin, bottom, by dealers. It’s a dangerous combination.

Fentanyl “stops you from breathing,” Laster said. “Narcan isn’t going to stop the problem. Only prevention can do that.”

Moreover, the cost of Narcan is steadily raising, making it a more expensive solution to the problem.

All Philadelphia fire companies and EMTs are stocked with Narcan, but each shot costs about $34 today. In 2014, Laster said, Narcan shots only cost the city about $13 a piece.

The problem is shocking enough that the city is stepping up efforts in a multi-pronged approach to prevent overdose deaths.

Evans said street teams from the health department will canvass neighborhoods where drug use is most rampant — “Kensington, in particular,” he said — to engage with users and try to get them to recovery houses before they die of an overdose.

“Prevention is the key to stopping this problem,” he said. “People need help.”

His office is also working with physicians and health officials in area hospitals, to educate them on the specific risks of fentanyl and to push them to prescribe fewer opioids to patients or use lower amounts, Evans said.

And an initiative called “Centers of Excellence” is launching that will help connect Medicaid patients who have substance abuse disorders to access and use services that can help them. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, The Wedge Medical Center and Temple University have all been named as “Centers of Excellence.”

Funding for these initiatives, city officials said, is being provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

In addition, Evans said he’s working with the city’s methadone treatment centers to find ways to help 500 more people a day who are trying to overcome their addictions. That could mean more people are served at each center or the centers are open longer hours, but either way, there will be a push to help more users looking to quit.

“This is a very complicated issue and, I think, we need to use multiple strategies,” said Evans.

As Fentanyl ODs Have Surged in Philly, Price of Antidote Has Tripled

Fatal overdoses involving the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl have surged more than 600 percent in Philadelphia during the last three years, city officials said Friday. Illicit use of the opioid was implicated in 184 deaths in 2015, up from 25 in 2013.

“Clearly, we have an epidemic of overdoses in Philadelphia involving this drug fentanyl,” said Health Commissioner Tom Farley at a Friday news conference.

At the same time, the price of the antidote used to treat opioid overdoses has skyrocketed.

In 2013, a dose of Narcan, the brand name of the antidote naloxone, cost the city $13.34. Last year, the cost soared to $37.82.

“It’s a drastic increase and that’s the government rate that we pay,” said Jeremiah Laster, Deputy Commissioner of Emergency Medical Services. “There are other departments in the country that pay more than $100 a dose for Narcan.”In hospitals, fentanyl is an effective painkiller used in operating rooms. It is sometimes used to manage severe chronic pain. Though overdoses on legally prescribed fentanyl are not common, the death of musician Prince in April was attributed to the drug.

On the street, illicit fentanyl is often added to heroin to boost the drug’s potency. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is 25 to 50 times more powerful than the equivalent amount of heroin.

“Users are often using this drug unaware how potent it is, putting them at greater risk for overdose,” said Arthur Evans, the city’s behavioral health commissioner.

The city has been issuing alerts about fentanyl since 2006.

“This has been a significant issue that has happened over the last decade with increasing frequency,” Evans said.

In Philadelphia, the number of all fatal drug overdoses has risen dramatically, spiking from 458 in 2013 to 701 last year.

“That means we have more than twice as many overdose deaths as we had deaths from homicide,” said Farley.

Many emergency services workers carry a supply of Narcan. Last year, EMTs in Philadelphia administered 3,035 doses. But not all overdose victims immediately respond, Laster said.

Due to fentanyl’s strength, EMTs often need to use more than one Narcan dose to bring a drug user back from the brink of death.

Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Skyrocket 636 Percent Over 2 Years in Philly, City Officials Say Prevention Is Key to Saving Lives

A disturbing 636 percent increase in overdoses from the medical-grade opioid fentanyl in Philadelphia has city health officials warning medical professionals and the public about the increased pervasiveness of the dangerously strong drug.

City health officials said Friday that 184 people died last year as a result of a fentanyl overdose, whether by using the drug alone or in combination with another, like heroin. Two years prior, in 2013, the drug killed 25 people. The change equates to a seven fold increase.

“Clearly, we have an epidemic,” Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at a news conference in City Hall.

This year’s data shows there’s no expectation the epidemic will slow down. In the first four months of 2016, 99 of the overdose deaths involved fentanyl, city data shows.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid in the same family as heroin, oxycontin and morphine. But it is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. A small dose can prove fatal by causing a person to stop breathing. Often the drug is used to cut another, like heroin, for a stronger high. Sometimes, it’s sold by itself.

“People are buying this drug in the same way as others,” Farley said.

Fentanyl was developed for the medical community. Recently, however, drug traffickers have begun producing their own version of the drug. It can be cut with heroin, injected on its own or be ingested as a pill.
Photo credit: Denver Post via Getty Images

Those suffering from opioid drug addiction quickly grow tolerant to the highs prescription painkillers and heroin provide. The result forces them into increasingly painful withdrawal. So they seek stronger highs, putting themselves at further risk with each hit and each new drug they try.

Heroin users explained the vicious cycle to NBC10 earlier this year as part of our special investigation Generation Addicted. The project, which debuted in March, explored the tragic world of opioid addiction in Philadelphia and beyond. It also looked at its effects on the addicted, their families and society.

Drug overdoses continue to rise despite frantic efforts by local, state and federal health and law enforcement officials to stem a tidal wave of deaths nationwide. More people died of a drug overdose than in a car wreck for the past three years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdose deaths accounted for more than 28,000 of the lives claimed in 2014 — the highest on record.

A recently released Drug Enforcement Administration report showed similar trends involving fentanyl across Pennsylvania. Agents saw a 93 percent jump in deaths involving the drug from 2014 to 2015. Further troubling is the fact that “fentanyl was the most commonly reported drug” among people who overdosed from heroin, the agency wrote.

Derik Lawley, 25, died last year when he took a fatal dose of fentanyl as he struggled with addiction. He thought it was heroin, his family said. His sister, Tara, wrote a heartbreaking letter about his death, whichyou can read here.

The overdose reversal medicine naloxone — commonly known as Narcan — has helped to bring countless people back to life, but doses may not be large enough to overcome fentanyl’s effects.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Jeremiah Laster said while naloxone typically will coax a person back to consciousness and allow them to breathe on their own following a heroin overdose, the same isn’t true for fentanyl. Medics often try to keep a person’s airway open as they rush them to the closest emergency room, he said.=

“The goal is to get somebody to the hospital to get them help,” he said.

Laster, who oversees emergency medical services, said the department is conducting a time-consuming review of patient records to determine whether an increase in naloxone dosage could make a difference in reversing fentanyl overdoses.

Increased dosage will undoubtedly result in higher costs — an issue that’s already becoming a problem for the city and other naloxone providers. Three years ago, the city paid $13.74 for a dose of the medicine. Today, that same dose costs $37.52. Laster said that’s still at a deep discount since the city gets government pricing. Some providers pay upwards of $100 a dose.

Nalaxone, sold under the name Narcan, is an overdose reversal drug. It can be injected or sprayed up a person’s nose.
Photo credit: NBC10

Everyone sees the medicine as a stopgap, preventing a person from ending up at the morgue. “Prevention is key to solving this problem,” Laster said.

Dr. Arthur Evans, Philadelphia’s behavioral health commissioner, said the city is taking a number of steps to address the crisis.

Evans said the city is “significantly expanding” access to services and medicine-assisted treatment. These medicine therapies help stabilize a person as they work to wean themselves off of drugs over a long-period of time.

The city is adding 500 extra slots for methadone treatment, 500 additional detox opportunities and doubling access to buprenorphine, widely known as Suboxone, to offer people help when they are asking for it, Evans said.

Behavioral health staff are doing outreach in communities with the highest concentrations of drug addicted people, like hard-hit Kensington, to let people how they can get help.

An assessment center at the North Philadelphia Health System (801 W. Girard Ave.) operates 24 hours a day helping to connect people to treatment offerings. A phone hotline (888-545-2600) does the same, Evans said.

Three state-sponsored Centers for Excellence will begin offering expanded treatment for Medicaid patients starting in the fall. Evans is hoping new money appropriated through the recently-passed federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will makes it way to the city through grants.

Outreach is also taking place among the medical community. For years, doctors freely prescribed prescription opioids, in the form of pills like Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin, and benzodiazepines like Xanax contributing to the epidemic’s wide scope. Now officials are trying to help physicians balance managing a patient’s pain and preventing addition from taking hold.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society and Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration issued new prescribing guidelines in July issuing a number of recommendations to doctors including putting a limit of seven days on opioid prescriptions doled out in the emergency room.

Addiction experts say many times patients are given too many pills to treat a minor issue leaving the door open for dependence or abuse by another person in their home.

Farley couldn’t say whether the city’s emergency rooms were following the guidelines (they are not required), but said his office plans to conduct outreach with doctors to keep them abreast of the epidemic.

And as the city works to address this latest facet of the complex crisis, there are new concerns from law enforcement about even stronger opioids hitting Philly’s streets.

Narcotics officers and DEA agents believe the synthetic opioid W-18 has begun to seep into the the local drug market. Designed in China, the drug can be up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Large amounts of the drug were seized in Miami and Alberta, Canada. Police drug labs have begun testing for it.

But as addiction specialist Dr. Brian Work told NBC10 earlier this year, with the heroin and fentanyl problem as pervasive as it is, “it’s hard worrying about the next thing down the pipe.”


Explore NBC10’s digital exclusive investigation Generation Addicted by visiting our special section here.

Wednesday, August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. NBC10 will be re-airing our 30 minute documentary from Generation Addicted at 7 p.m. that night.

Officials: Overdose Deaths Involving Fentanyl Up 600% Since 2013

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia health officials say overdose deaths involving the drug fentanyl continue to rise, despite years of warnings about its dangers. And the cost to the city is going up as the price for the emergency drug to prevent fatalities spikes.

It was deja vu for Behavioral Health Commissioner Arthur Evans, as he reported that the 99 fentanyl deaths in the first four months of this year are more than double where they were last year, which was a record year for fentanyl deaths.

“We also did an alert in 2013, and we did an alert in 2014,” he said.

Clearly, the alerts are of limited use.

Photo Credit, By Pat Loeb

Credit: Pat Loeb

Evans says the city is also doing outreach and expanding treatmentservices. And Deputy Fire Commissioner Jeremiah Laster says Emergency Medical workers are using twice as much of the overdose reversal drug Naloxone compared to two years ago.

“3,035 doses in 2015.” Laster said.

That’s straining budgets because the cost of the drug has tripled in that time. Laster says he doesn’t know the reason. Calls to the manufacturer have not been returned. But Laster adds Naloxone doesn’t get at the root of the problem.

“Prevention is the issue we’re going to have to deal with.”