Philadelphia’s Rising Overdose Deaths Highlight Opioid Crisis

City’s drug mortality rate among nation’s highest

Philadelphia’s Rising Overdose Deaths Highlight Opioid Crisis



Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health estimated the number of drug overdose deaths in the city in 2017 at 1,200—nearly double the total from just three years earlier.¹ The increase is being driven by rising opioid misuse and dependence: More than 80 percent of Philadelphia’s drug-related deaths in 2016 involved opioids, a significant change from 15 or 20 years ago, when other drugs, such as cocaine, accounted for about a third of deaths.²

 Comparing Philadelphia

Among the nation’s 44 counties with at least 1 million residents, Philadelphia’s rate of overdose deaths was the second highest in 2016, trailing only Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh. Among the jurisdictions listed in the graphic below, Philadelphia also trailed the city of Baltimore, which has fewer than 1 million people.³

Demographics of the problem

From 2014 through 2016, the overdose death rate in Philadelphia was higher for men than for women and for whites than for blacks and Hispanics. White men had the highest rate, while Hispanic women had the lowest.

In terms of age, 45- to 54-year-olds were the hardest-hit group in Philadelphia, which may be partly due to continuing cocaine use among older residents.


  1. Mari A. Schaefer, “Philadelphia Sues Opioid Drugmakers Over Role in ‘Public Health Nightmare,’”, Jan. 17, 2018,
  2. Philadelphia Department of Public Health, “2016 Overdoses From Opioids in Philadelphia,” CHART 2, no. 7 (2017), v2e7.pdf.
  3. All data in this analysis come from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About Underlying Cause of Death, 1999-2016,”

tweetable fact

More than 80% of 2016 drug overdose deaths in Philly involved opioids.  TWEET

Philadelphia 2018: The State of the City

The state of the city

Quick View

In 2018, the key gauges of Philadelphia’s overall well-being fall into a clear-cut pattern, more than at other times in the city’s recent history: The economic indicators are mostly positive, the social measures considerably less so.