Overdose deaths among Black Philadelphians rose by nearly 20% in 2022

The city announced there were more than 1,400 overdose deaths last year

People gather on a street overtaken by heroin users in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington in 2021.

People gather on a street overtaken by heroin users in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington in 2021. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The City of Philadelphia saw an 11% increase in overdose deaths in 2022, with fatalities among Black residents rising by nearly 20% last year alone, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced Monday. 

The city revealed the stark situation surrounding substance use within the area, reporting 1,413 unintentional overdose deaths in 2022. That 11% increase also breaks the previous year’s record of 1,276 overdose deaths. 

“The 2022 overdose report underscores the urgent need for greater awareness and more tools to fight the growing overdose epidemic in Philadelphia and across the U.S.,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “It is no longer accurate to call this an opioid epidemic; it is an overdose epidemic driven by an increasingly contaminated drug supply.”

The city’s figures show that more than 80% of the overdose deaths recorded last year involved opioids, with almost all cases involving fentanyl. Stimulants, such as cocaine, were found in more than 70% of overdose deaths as well. 

“The fact that this crisis is spreading across the city and moving into Black and Hispanic neighborhoods like never before is heartbreaking,” Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement. “For those who mistakenly thought that this was a problem contained within Kensington, these data show that is not the case. And the risk is not confined to those who are dependent on opioids; people who use stimulants and those who only use drugs occasionally are also dying of overdoses, most often due to opioids mixed with stimulants.”

The report comes amid ongoing debates about opioids and supervised injection sites within the city. Last week, after Kenney vetoed legislation prohibiting supervised injection sites throughout most of the city, City Councilmembers voted 14-1 to override his veto. 

Proponents of the sites say they prevent deaths by allowing recreational drugs to be consumed in a medically supervised setting. Kenney called the legislation “troublingly anti-science and misleading.”

Philadelphia City Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, who represents Kensington in the 7th district, has vouched for the prohibition of supervised injection sites. 

“We told him that we’re against it,” Lozada told City & State earlier this year. “We need to spend some (federal) funds on prevention, on education, on resources to connect those who are suffering from addiction to real services.”

According to the Department of Public Health, xylazine, a veterinary anesthetic and analgesic commonly known as “tranq,” was found in 34% of all overdose deaths. Earlier this year, Gov. Josh Shapiro met with city officials outside the Kensington neighborhood to announce that xylazine will be added to the state’s list of controlled substances.