By David T. Jones
What’s happening along Gurney Street is something to be celebrated.
In just over two weeks since the clean-up project began along a stretch of land owned by Conrail in the Kensington-Fairhill community, more than 250 tons of waste and debris have been removed and fencing is going up to prevent people from becoming injured on or near the railroad tracks. In addition, the fencing serves as a barrier to prevent gathering in the area where folks had engaged in dangerous and unhealthy behavior. In this instance the “C “word, collaboration between City agencies and private partners, has made the difference — the once blighted landscape is no more.
But more important than the aesthetic improvements is the quality of life improvements that we are spearheading. Members of our team as well as our partner agencies have been on the ground since the project began on July 31, offering support to those who, for various reasons, were reluctant to seek supportive services and/or treatment. Fortunately during this time, nearly 150 people have been helped, 50 of whom were immediately referred to treatment services with the ultimate goal of getting them on the pathway to recovery.
It’s clear that effective change can take place, especially when individuals and organizations come together to serve those in greatest need. However, we know there remains a lot more to do. There were 900 opioid-related overdose deaths in Philadelphia last year. And, just about three-quarters of the way through 2017, overdose deaths are projected to reach 1,200 by year’s end.
So, while we are encouraged by the impact we’re having at Gurney Street, we are constantly working to see what can be done to get the appropriate services and treatment to people, seeing what can be done to address what has become a growing problem for far too many individuals and those who love them. This opioid epidemic, which we are pleased to hear has been deemed a national emergency, didn’t happen overnight and won’t be eradicated quickly. This is an all hands-on-deck situation that will require work on many fronts. We at DBHIDS will continue our outreach work, not just in the Kensington-Fairhill area, but throughout the city, to meet the needs of those with substance use or co-occurring challenges where they are.
In addition to connecting with those currently impacted by substance use disorder, we are continuing to educate people from all ages and walks of life. Prevention is key in the fight against substance misuse and we know that helping people see the dangers before they indulge can go a long way in creating healthier people, families, and communities. We are looking forward to participating in town hall meetings and other events to raise awareness and inform the public on what we’re doing in response to this epidemic that is jeopardizing the quality of life for individuals and their families throughout the nation.
And while the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia is no longer meeting, we and other agencies throughout the city will continue to implement the 18 task force recommendations, thereby connecting people to treatment along with the critically important social determinants of health. This is not the first time substance misuse has reached epidemic proportions and while turning the tide is a monumental task. Together, we will resolve this crisis and together, we will see the benefits of what can happen when people, businesses, community organizations, and government come together to create compassionate change.