Oct 17, 2022 - News

Philadelphia needle exchange Prevention Point sees surge in demand

Illustration of senior hands reaching up towards a caduceus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Philadelphia's only needle exchange has seen the number of people seeking services skyrocket during the pandemic.

Why it matters: The increase in need observed by Kensington-based Prevention Point, located in the epicenter of the city's opioid crisis, could signal that Philly's opioid epidemic is worsening.

By the numbers: Prevention Point, which offers medical, behavioral health and prevention services, helped more than 36,000 individuals during the fiscal year between June 2021 and June 2022 — a three-fold rise from the 12,000 receiving help in 2019.

  • More than 10 million used needles were collected during that time — the first time in the group's three-decade history that more syringes were collected than distributed by the nonprofit (8.8 million).
  • 1,261 hepatitis C tests were given last fiscal year — up 65% over three years.
  • 463 placements in emergency housing and drug treatment — a 55% increase over last FY.

The big picture: Drug overdose deaths hit 5,224 in Pennsylvania in 2021 — the highest number recorded since 2017.

  • Of those, state estimates show Philly accounted for 1,240 deaths, a new record.
  • Overdose deaths have been steadily on the rise again in Philly after peaking five years ago at 1,217, corresponding with a rise in overdoses among Black and Hispanic residents.

Between the lines: The city's drug trade has become more unreliable and dangerous in recent years as polysubstances — the combinations of opioids or other substances — have become more common.

What they're saying: José Benitez, lead executive officer of Prevention Point, called the rise in requests for services concerning, and warned that the figures were only a fraction of the real need.

  • "Despite the pandemic, we're seeing more folks come in for services. They tend to be younger and more people of color," he told Axios.

Andrew Best Jr., director of substance use prevention and harm reduction for the city’s health department, told Axios that Philly's recent increase in overdose deaths could be attributed to poverty, isolation, and mental illness stemming from the pandemic, along with a contaminated drug supply.

  • While the synthetic-opioid fentanyl has been in Philadelphia for years, it is now appearing more and more in pills on the streets, Best noted.

What's ahead: Prevention Point is seeking more funding to meet the area's growing need, Benitez said. The nonprofit's $18 million budget has declined slightly since 2019, he said.

  • Meanwhile, city officials are expected to release its report on drug overdose deaths in the city in the coming weeks.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more