More Philadelphians than ever died of overdoses in 2022, with toll especially grim among Black residents

More Philadelphians died of drug overdoses in 2022 than ever before, city health officials said Wednesday, with a record 1,413 people fatally overdosing within city limits, mostly after using illicit opioids.

The 2022 toll represents an 11% increase from 2021, when the city recorded 1,276 overdose deaths — now the second highest ever.

And the opioid epidemic continues to increasingly impact Black Philadelphians.

The city is seeing a rise in overdose deaths among Black Philadelphians, a community in which deaths rose by nearly 20% between 2021 and 2022.

Andrew Best, the director of the city health department’s Division of Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction, in a statement called the disparity a “disturbing trend.”

It’s a demographic shift that Philadelphia, and the country at large, have grappled with in recent years: As drug deaths have decreased among white residents, Black residents are now dying at higher rates amid a still-escalating crisis.

For the last several years, health officials, advocates, and family members who lost loved ones to overdoses have been calling for more outreach and attention for Black overdose victims in particular. The city has sent public health workers into majority-Black neighborhoods where overdoses have been rising, where in the past such efforts to spread awareness about the dangers of the city’s drug supply have been limited.

Fentanyl driving Philadelphia’s overdose deaths

Opioids were behind nearly 80% of the city’s fatal overdoses in 2022 — and nearly all opioid-related overdoses involved fentanyl or its analogues, the powerful synthetic opioids that have largely replaced heroin in Philadelphia.

Cocaine was the second-most common drug present in overdose deaths, the health department said.


Best said the numbers released by the department on Wednesday were preliminary and that health officials hope to release soon a fuller analysis of overdose deaths in 2022.

A debate over how to address rising deaths

Mayor Jim Kenney officially acknowledged the city’s record 2022 overdose death toll as he vetoed legislation prohibiting in most parts of the city the creation of supervised drug consumption sites, which are places where people can use drugs under medical supervision and be revived if they overdose.

The legislation had passed in City Council with a veto-proof majority, so Council members are expected to vote to override the veto on Thursday.

Kenney cited rising overdose deaths in Philadelphia in a letter announcing his plans to veto the bill, saying the death toll from 2022 should give council members pause before they vote again to ban the sites.

“In 2022, 1,413 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, New York City’s overdose prevention centers have intervened in 1,131 overdoses in less than two years,” he wrote, referencing the only two openly operating supervised injection sites in the country.

“This Administration cannot help but wonder how many irreplaceable people are lost with each passing year that Philadelphia does not welcome the same opportunity.”

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