The victims were mostly African-American, officials said, and between the ages of 40 and 50. Two-thirds were men. Many told health providers that they thought they were taking crack cocaine, but their overdose symptoms did not fit the profile of crack intoxication.
Drug recovery is precarious. Relapse is more likely than lasting sobriety. And for opioid users, being fresh out of rehab can be deadly if they pick up again at their previous dose, which now is too much for a brain that has lost its tolerance for drugs.
Most of the victims told doctors they thought they were using crack cocaine. But the overdoses they experienced fit the profile of an opioid overdose, which raises the concern of possible adulteration with fentanyl.
Hospitalizations for pain medication overdoses decreased by 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017; hospitalizations for heroin overdoses increased by 12.7 percent in the same period. However, researchers noted, that was the lowest increase in heroin-overdose hospitalizations in years.
Since neighboring Delaware County became the first county in the state to sue pharmaceutical companies over the local costs of the opioid crisis last year, several other counties have followed suit; Bucks County is the latest to file a lawsuit against Big Pharma.
Housing-first programs are controversial; many shelters and supportive housing programs require some level of sobriety before entering. But recovery requires stability, Pathways to Housing officials say, which isn't typically found on the streets or in the shelter system.
In less than a week, the city will close the encampments under the Kensington Avenue and Tulip Street train bridges, tackling the problem with a force they have never before displayed: more outreach workers, more shelter beds in the neighborhood, quicker access to treatment.
Aubrey Whelan is a staff writer assigned to the enterprise team. Since joining the Inquirer in 2012, she has covered crime in Philadelphia and everything in Chester County.