By Aubrey Whelan

After a year in which overdoses outstripped the murder rate by 4-1, librarians ran outside to save people from overdosing, and makeshift heroin camps sprawled under bridges and on street corners, Philadelphia city officials Tuesday took their most radical step yet against the opioid crisis.

It’s time, they declared, to do what no other U.S. city has done: Establish medically supervised facilities where people can inject drugs, be revived if they overdose, and then be helped into treatment.

“We are facing an epidemic of historic proportions,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said at an afternoon news conference at City Hall. “The people in the city of Philadelphia, our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our children, are dying. And they don’t need to die. And we have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent those people from dying.”

The city will not operate the sites — at locations yet to be determined — but will encourage private organizations to take on the task. Farley and others emphasized that the sites are just one aspect of what must be a major, coordinated response to a crisis that took an estimated 1,200 lives last year, the highest death rate of any major U.S. city.