Major grant boosts Philly overdose unit's life-saving efforts

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia Fire Department has teamed up with city public health agencies to provide a forward-thinking and unique model of care for opioid-addicted residents. Now, a sizable grant will make it possible to fully staff and expand their efforts.

Philadelphia Fire Department Capt. Tabitha Boyle said the unit dubbed AR-2 is the result of a collaboration between Philadelphia Fire Department, Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

In a mobile unit converted from an old Free Library bookmobile, they roam the streets of Kensington and other drug-plagued areas.

AR 2 is staffed with a paramedic and a social services case manager. The unit offers the opportunity to go right to treatment, health screening, housing services and more. Boyle said the drug epidemic is everyone's problem.

Podcast Episode
KYW Newsradio In Depth
Forensic pathologist on the rise of fentanyl and the opioid crisis
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

"Fentanyl is being mixed into things, pressed into pills, mixed into other drug supplies, so there are people who never thought they were taking opioids who are suffering overdoses and wake up to someone who administering Narcan," she said, adding the $265,000 grant from the University of Baltimore's Center for Drug Policy and Prevention will bolster their efforts.

"We go to the scene where a client has had a non-fatal overdose. We offer services that day, immediately working together with EMS and case management to get placement in a treatment center," Boyle detailed.

She said they are able to bypass and relieve pressure from overloaded emergency rooms, and steer people to treatment in as little as two hours. How many people took advantage of this?

"Last year, we had a 60% acceptance rate to go in patient detox. The clients that weren't going inpatient were also offered services," she reported.

"What we have seen with AR 2 is that we have made an impact. Calls for overdoses have been reduced, meaning medic units in the area are free to respond to other emergencies."

That's 40 to 50 people a month in Kensington alone being dropped off to treatment, and Boyle said it's making a difference in every neighborhood they visit.

"When you get to the heart of the matter, it's that three people a day are dying in Philadelphia from overdose. That's a real statistic," she shared.

"Anything we can do to reduce barriers to treatment, anything we can do to help affects the health of the city."