Council hearing to focus on Philly’s efforts to fight opioid addiction

City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (Emma Lee/WHYY)

City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Getting drug treatment to people in need and making sure officials are investing wisely in behavioral health services are among the topics expected to come up today during a public hearing on how Philadelphia is responding to the opioid crisis.

The City Council hearing comes out of a resolution passed in January, just two days after the city announced it would seek to open a safe injection site for drug users. The resolution was introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents communities in Kensington that are bearing the brunt of the epidemic.

“A lot of the focus has been on the trauma of the people addicted, and not enough focus on the trauma of the children and the residents that are trapped within that,” she said.

The councilwoman said the city needs to do more to address the bridge encampments along Lehigh Avenue that are swelling with homeless drug users, who often openly inject drugs in public.

She said the hearing would be an opportunity to ask officials in the city’s behavioral health system why they haven’t been able to get more of these opioid users off the streets.

“What I want to do is shed some light about the fact that there’s a lot of money being put in there,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “How is it being utilized, who’s monitoring it, who’s making the decisions, what’s the transparency in it?”

The $1.6 billion Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services is already facing an audit by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.

Quiñones-Sánchez said the public should know what kind of oversight was in place to eliminate fraud and ensure quality of care at the facilities the city contracts with to provide behavioral health services.

She also said the hearing would focus on why some seeking addiction treatment still aren’t able to access care.

“At community meeting after community meeting, all we hear from folks is, ‘Folks can’t access treatment because there are barriers to entry,’ ” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “What can we be doing to break down those barriers, so we can meet people where they are?”

City spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said in a statement that health and human services officials are looking forward to the “opportunity to testify about our plan to effectively tackle the biggest public health crisis that we have ever experienced.”

“We also have extensive work underway in the communities most impacted by the crisis,” Taylor said.

Today’s hearing begins at 10 a.m. in council chambers at Philadelphia City Hall.

City Council will hold a second public hearing in April in Kensington, where residents will have the opportunity to tell officials how the opioid crisis is affecting their community.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.