With the opioid death toll already surpassing 100 Americans a day, President Trump plans to declare Thursday afternoon that the crisis is a public health emergency. How the impact of that move will be felt locally isn't yet clear; the declaration is expected to help loosen some rules on how federal funds are spent, among other things.
But there is no doubt what the opioid crisis has done to the Philadelphia region.
In Nov. 2016, The Inquirer's spotlight on a makeshift camp of heroin users along railroad tracks that run through Kensington and Fairhill shed light on the extent of Philadelphia's opioid epidemic.
In a particularly harrowing week of Dec. 2016, opioids killed an unprecedented 35 people in Philadelphia during a devastating five-day period. Twenty-six tested positive for fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that experts described as the "third wave of the crisis." Fentanyl — used to sedate elephants and other large animals — is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil, which has also been suspected in Philadelphia overdose deaths, is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Some worried that just touching the drug could cause an overdose but Inquirer reporter Marie McCullough found that's 'highly unlikely.'
By the end of 2016, fatal drug overdoses had surged to 900.
The increase in overdose deaths has cost taxpayers dearly as victims stack up for coroners who struggle to keep up.
This summer, contractors began cleanup work along the Gurney Street railroad tracks in Kensington. It was "a big step in what will be a long journey," said Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis.
Inquirer columnist Mike Newall thinks the answer to that problem is safe injection sites. Earlier this month, he traveled to Toronto to learn more about how the city's pop-up safe-injection site, located in a city park, had saved the lives of 100 people.