Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jan 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Mike Newall


When I think about the people I've met in Kensington over the last
eight months, the people who've opened up to me about their addiction,
about their lives, talking to me from the cardboard mattresses and
train bridges and alleyways and library lawns where they live, I think
about the ones I haven't seen in a while.

No, Philly did not just approve of 'Hamsterdam'

Could City Council block Kenney's proposed safe injection sites?

I think about how many of them by now are dead.

I hate to think of what the answer would be. The numbers alone tell me
the odds are against them. In Philadelphia last year an estimated
1,200 people died of overdoses, so many of them in Kensington. I can't
get past that number. How can any of us?

Today, the city has announced its courageous decision to try to
prevent as many more deaths as possible. Philadelphia will support the
opening of safe injection sites in Philadelphia.

It's a testament to how far the city has come in a year - if a safe
injection site opens here, Philadelphia would be the first in the
country to take this step - but also an undeniable marker of how far
we still have to go.

Any safe injection site must be part of the long-term solution that
keeps people alive and builds on treatment and prevention options that
can finally stem the crisis. Because what America is coming to
understand - as so many countries already have - is that these sites
are a path to treatment, an opportunity to connect with people once
written off as unreachable. We're realizing that the dependence on
opioids is so strong, and the drug so lethal, that it all boils down
to a few simple questions: How much do we value human life? What are
we willing to do to save people? And if we do nothing, how do we live
with ourselves?

The librarians at McPherson Square showed us the way. This summer,
catastrophe camped on their lawn - at one point a person was
overdosing outside their building every day - and instead of closing
their doors, they ran out through them, with Narcan. The librarians
rushed out those doors not just to save a life - but because they also
wanted to spare their neighborhood, the kids who lived nearby and
should have been playing in that park, instead of seeing all those
overdoses on the streets.

Today, the city is showing it's no longer reacting to this crisis.
It's seeking to lead - and it must (even though the mayor was not at
Tuesday's announcement - and should have been - he did offer
full-throated support for the plan).

It's time to think about lending city funds to the sites instead of
just helping. It's far past time to have the broader conversation
about Kensington - about the neglect and institutional racism that
made it the perfect place for a drug crisis to take root. It's time to
dispel the myths - to make plain the real-world evidence from
elsewhere that safe injection sites cut back on shooting up in public
and ease the trauma of neighborhoods that witness it daily.

And you don't have to look hard to find the best argument for safe
injection sites. Stop by Lehigh and Kensington, where there's a heroin
encampment across the street from an elementary school. Talk to the
people living there on the cold concrete. They will argue for a safe
injection site just the way advocates do - not because they're looking
for an all-day party, but because they'd rather be anywhere else in
the world than shooting heroin in front of children.

But the reality is, now, that we're a city where a heroin encampment
blossoms in front of an elementary school, and we've decided that's
not acceptable. That's not who we are. We decided to lead.

I know this decision comes too late for some of the people I met in
passing this summer. And I know it's too late for my own brother who
died of a heroin overdose years ago. But nearly all of the people I
talk to, who agree to share their stories - from families drowning in
loss, to my own parents, to people suffering in addiction themselves -
ended our conversations with the same simple hope: "If it saves one

That's why they told their stories. To hold up a crisis. To spur
action out of needless loss. To save lives.

This will save so many. And I'm proud of my city for it.

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Mike Newall has been writing for the Inquirer since 2010. Originally
from Brooklyn, N.Y., he has been writing about Philadelphia crime,
courts, politics, and neighborhoods since 2003. Before joining the
Inquirer, he was a staff writer and columnist for Philadelphia Weekly
and Philadelphia City Paper. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife
and dog.
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