Pathways to Housing PA provides housing and treatment for chronically homeless Philadelphians with drug addiction and multiple other disabilities, as featured in our 2016 High Impact Giving Guide. Pathways recently launched a new team in response to the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia. This blog was adapted from the Pathways to Housing PA blog posts, “Something New” parts 1 and 2.
Opioid-related deaths have been on the rise nationally in recent years, with Philadelphia seeing a sharp increase beginning in 2011. Last year, nearly 700 people in the city died from drug overdoses, double the number of homicide deaths in the same period. While the epidemic can be linked to several factors, increased prescriptions of opioids for pain management is one salient cause. Many people became addicted to a prescribed opioid, and transitioned to purchasing pills and heroin as their addiction became more demanding.
Pathways’ Clinical Director Matt Tice has been following the epidemic closely. “Philadelphia’s heroin is known as the purest and strongest heroin in the region, in addition to the cheapest.” In addition to having a high risk of overdose, heroin is often laced with other, more dangerous substances to make it cheaper to produce. Add to that the risks of intravenous drug use, the inherent dangers of living on the streets, and the sharply decreased awareness many users experience while on the drug, and it’s easy to see why this population is one of the most vulnerable in Philadelphia.
Pathways first began discussing the possibility of a team designed specifically to serve opioid addicted individuals near the end of 2015. This population presents several unique challenges. Life with opioid addiction is chaotic. There are high rates of relapse, complex social relationships leading to apartment damages or evictions, and a pervasive focus on obtaining drugs that makes relationship-building challenging. Overdose risk is also a concern, as apartments afford less visibility than the street.
Pathways has carefully crafted the new team, called Team 7, to specifically address the unique challenges of opioid addiction. Offering housing first will give participants a safe place to rest and be, and it is a critical starting point for being able to address other issues effectively. Team 7 is following the team case management model practiced across Pathways, with some unique additions. Unlike the traditional teams, all members of Team 7 have some background working with addiction. This team also has 2 substance abuse specialists, with specific experience and training working in addiction treatment. Finally, this team will have access to a part-time therapist. Trauma and addiction often go hand in hand. In treating people holistically, Pathways recognizes that people’s mental and physical well-being impact their decision to use.
Several months ago, Pathways received a “Centers for Excellence in Opioid Treatment” award from the state, along with partner agencies Project Home and Prevention Point. In addition to helping fund a therapist, the award will allow them to offer Suboxone, Vivitrol, and other medications used to treat opioid addiction. This represents a huge benefit for participants. There are multiple personal, practical and systemic barriers to accessing treatment. Offering services at their office bypasses many of those barriers, and will hopefully make it much less imitating for people to say yes to treatment.