Hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with opioid companies will go toward supporting Philadelphia communities struggling with an overdose epidemic that has killed 1,276 people in the city in 2021 and helping people with addiction, local officials said Thursday.
Among the initiatives funded was a mobile methadone program that sends vans staffed by medical staff into neighborhoods to distribute methadone for opioid addiction to participants the same day they sign up. Philadelphia is one of the first U.S. cities to enter into talks with the federal government about such a program in more than a decade.
The funding is part of a $26 billion settlement reached last year by then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health & McKesson. (Shapiro was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s new governor this week.)
Philadelphia and dozens of other Pennsylvania counties are now slated to receive millions from the state’s $1.6 billion fund. The city plans to receive $200 million of those funds over the next 18 years, and so far about $20 million has been transferred in two installments, city officials said.
Mayor Jim Kenney opposed the settlement, saying it wouldn’t give Philadelphia enough money, but the city eventually signed on.
“It’s not all we want, but it’s all we can get,” Kenney said at a press conference at the Macpherson Square Library in Kensington, the epicenter of Philadelphia’s drug epidemic, which has struggled with open drug use and sales. throughout the year. In a statement, he said the plan will “immediately impact lives, creating results that residents can see and feel in their parks, schools and homes.”
The settlement funds announced Thursday represent a portion of the billions of dollars expected to flow to Pennsylvania counties as part of a series of lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and advocacy groups that sell and promote opioid pain relievers. years of crisis and overdose deaths.
The city is accepting grant applications for the $3.5 million Overdose Prevention and Community Healing Fund. The fund focuses on preventing, de-stigmatizing, and harming drug use in communities around the city, but will focus specifically on “high-impact zip codes” in North Philadelphia and Kensington, where the city has the highest overdose deaths.
Another $7.5 million will go toward planning Kensington’s “Kensington Health Corridor,” which will fund housing repairs, help residents fight foreclosures, and improve neighborhood parks and schools.
Bill McKinney, executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, who lives near McPherson Square, said he was inspired by the city’s plan to divide the townships. NKCDC and another community nonprofit, Impact Services, will receive a portion of the neighborhood’s rebuilding funds. He said Kensington adopted a “top-down” plan that did not involve enough members of the community; He said that this time, the city administration is working with public organizations.
McKinney said the effects of the crisis have affected nearly every resident in Kensington. “We’re dealing with all kinds of trauma here — a person sleeping on the street, a child who can’t walk to school, people living in dilapidated homes,” he said. “This is an epidemic caused by structural racism, classism, and the desire of most people to suppress rather than solve problems.”
The plan will also fund targeted programs reduce the harms of illegal drug use and encourage more Philadelphians to recover from addiction. In 2021, the city reported a sharp increase in overdose deaths among black and Hispanic residents.
The city’s planned mobile methadone clinics would offer a less invasive form of opioid addiction treatment, effectively barred from expanding in the United States between 2007 and 2021. (Methadone vans operate widely in other countries, including Portugal, and are believed to help people with severe addictions who are not ready for more structured treatment.)
In 2021, the federal government eased requirements for portable methadone, allowing existing methadone clinics to operate vans without a Drug Enforcement Administration license.
City officials will also use the funds to expand access to methadone in jails and prisons, and to give incarcerated Philadelphians up to 16 milligrams of buprenorphine, another drug used to treat opioid addiction. (In the past, inmates in the Philadelphia jail were only allowed 8 mg.)
“It allows for the same level of treatment as non-incarcerated people,” said Jill Bowen, commissioner of the city’s Office of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities. “[Incarcerated people] When they leave prison, they can more easily transition to treatment.”
The settlement money will be used in addition to the expansion of the city wound care. That’s especially necessary, officials said, because the city’s drug supply contains the animal sedative xylazine. Xylazine, or “trank,” can cause serious damage and overdoses that are more difficult to reverse.
It will also fund housing initiatives such as a new shelter for married couples, housing for people leaving prison, and housing for people living on the streets seeking outpatient drug treatment. The city administration plans to allocate this money and expanding police-assisted diversion programs aimed at getting people with addictions into treatment rather than arrest.
At a press conference Thursday, some Kensington residents said they were encouraged by the funding announcements, but still skepticism after years of failed interventions in the neighborhood. Several people pointed out that the opioid crisis is a citywide problem, and part of the city’s goal is to avoid concentrating drug use in neighborhoods.
Patrice Rogers, a Kensington resident who runs the Stop the Risk camp for addicts, said the crisis and efforts to combat it shouldn’t be limited to Kensington. And he said people with addictions shouldn’t be treated as if they weren’t part of the same community.
He said he was encouraged by Thursday’s announcement, especially because of the community organizations involved. Rogers is the community liaison with Impact Services.
“I believe it’s different this time because of the people involved – it will make a difference,” he said. “I believe they care about the community.”