As heroin deaths mount, Philly gets new leader in the fight

With Philadelphia confronting an unprecedented opioid crisis, Mayor Kenney has confirmed a new leader for the department charged with leading the fight. David T. Jones, who has been acting commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) since January, may now remove the “acting” from before the title.

Kenney announced Friday that after a five-month-long national search for a new commissioner, Jones will be the department’s new leader. Jones replaces Arthur C. Evans Jr., who left in January to become CEO of the American Psychological Association.

Jones, 52, will oversee the department, which has a $1 billion-a-year budget and nearly 800 employees. The agency is charged with managing the city’s mental health services, addiction treatments, and disability services for adults and children.

“This agency and its dedicated staff are closely involved with some of the most pressing issues facing our children, adults, and families, including the growing, sad to say, opioid epidemic and responding to individuals who are homeless and dealing with substance misuse or mental health challenges, Kenney said during Friday’s announcement.

When Kenney announced Jones’ name to a standing room only crowd in the Mayor’s Reception Room, the room broke out in cheers and applause. Jones is said to have a lot of supporters within the department.

Kenney said Jones has “the knowledge, the vision and the ability to lead DBHIDS and ensure that those in need receive the best service and treatment possible.”

Jones has been with the department since 2013, serving as a deputy commissioner before he was tapped to fill in as acting commissioner in January. As deputy commissioner, Jones oversaw the department’s fiscal and administrative operations. Prior to his time at DBHIDS, Jones was chief of behavioral health and crisis services for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services in Maryland.

At the announcement Friday, Jones praised the staff at DBHIDS.

“These folks have great acumen. They have tremendous skill sets and they are certainly committed to serving Philadelphians,” Jones said. He also said he looked forward to continuing to work with the various city departments such as police and health to address the many needs of the city.

At the public forefront of the issues is the opioid crisis. More than 900 people died last year from opioid overdoses, a 30 percent increase from 2015. This number of fatalities this year is expected to surpass last year’s numbers.

Jones’ department will be responsible for implementing the recommendations brought forth in May by the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Crisis. Jones said Friday that work has already begun by increasing the number of treatment slots available.

“It’s going to be a continued work in progress,” he said of the rollout of the task force recommendations.