Philadelphia launches campaign to curb opioid deaths

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Philadelphia launches campaign to curb opioid deaths. Vernon Odom reports during Action News at 4:30pm on May 1, 2017. (WPVI)

The City of Philadelphia is launching a new campaign in an effort to combat the drug crisis that continues to claim lives.

"In 2016 we lost more than 900 people to drug overdoses. That's nearly three times the number of people who died from homicides," said Mayor Jim Kenney.

It features people with real-life stories about how legally-prescribed painkillers led to an addiction to heroin.

"Most people who are using heroin didn't start out using heroin. Most people started out using pills, particularly prescription painkillers: Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocets, and there are many other prescription painkillers," said City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

There were 907 overdose deaths in Philadelphia last year, with 80% brought on by opioids.

RELATED: Action News investigates open-air drug dens in Philadelphia


At least 100 occurred last fall when fentanyl, a drug at least 50 times stronger than heroin, hit the marketplace.

"This is an extremely potent, synthetic opioid, it's made in a laboratory," said Farley.

The prescribed painkillers that led to many of these cases are far too strong, officials say.

"There are more than 97 million people who are receiving medication for pain, and there are about 12 million who are misusing that medication," said Commissioner Roland Lamb of the Department of Behavioral Health.

One mother who spoke at the event said she lost her oldest son after he was prescribed painkillers following a car accident.

"At the time I felt the doctor knew best, and we followed what was given to us by our professional," she said.

A South Philadelphia woman said she lost her beloved uncle to street addiction.

"My uncle was sick, he had a disease: addiction. It's a family disease, it affects us all," she said.

Officials say a synthetic opioid stronger than fentanyl is starting to appear in western Pennsylvania, and the fear is that it will make its way to Philadelphia.

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healthphiladelphia newsdrugsheroinCenter City Philadelphia
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