Collaboration Can Lead to Change

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.

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Opioid Film

Opioid Film

Bupe Works

Bupe Works


Cleanup begins in Kensington with no easy end to opioid troubles | Nov. 1, 2018

By Aubrey Whelan

In Kensington, everyone can agree on one thing: The neighborhood in Philadelphia’s river wards needs to be cleaned — of the mattresses, the tents, the piles of garbage, the discarded needles along Kensington Avenue and the surrounding blocks, the detritus of an opioid crisis that pushed city officials to declare a disaster there last month.

But even as officials launched a large-scale cleanup along the avenue Thursday, they acknowledged that the crisis in Kensington can’t be fixed by broom-wielding volunteers and city staffers.
“Today’s event won’t solve the litter problem or the discarded needles,” said Brian Abernathy, the city’s first deputy managing director.

But he told reporters that the cleanup — one of a few dozen goals for the neighborhood that the city had promised to accomplish before Nov. 15 as part of the disaster declaration — served a symbolic purpose, too. Officials hope it will show this long-neglected neighborhood that the city is serious about addressing its latest and largest crisis.

The disaster declaration is laying bare tensions over the central dispute in helping Kensington — namely, that not everyone agrees on how to do it. Even as she praised city officials for “not only working hard, but working smart in an intentional way,” Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents much of the community, told reporters that the neighborhood “cannot take any more.”

The city has promised to find a location for a new “navigation center” — a short-term shelter that does not require sobriety and is designed to house people with addiction — within the next two weeks, as it prepares to clear a heroin encampment on Frankford Avenue. There’s already one navigation center in the neighborhood, not far from the Allegheny El station, where the cleanup crews met on Thursday, and another low-barrier shelter near the city’s only needle exchange, also in Kensington.

Abernathy said the navigation center must be convenient to people in addiction, who often balk at leaving the neighborhood where they can most easily find drugs to stave off the intense pain of withdrawal. “We won’t be successful in getting folks off the street without [the center]. That is one of the most important efforts we have, but also one we have the most questions about,” he said. “We’re confident we’re going to find a site for it that is workable for everyone involved.”

Quiñones-Sánchez says the neighborhood has hosted enough services for those in addiction, many of whom are not from the community.

“I will not allow them to put another [navigation center] in this neighborhood,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “Kensington has been sympathetic. Kensington residents have been patient. Pero no mas.” “But no more.”

As cleaning crews picked up needles in McPherson Square Park, raked trash out of vacant lots and gave abandoned storefronts on the avenue a fresh coat of paint, residents said the cleaning was welcome — and long overdue.

“The cleanup is fine, but this area needs more than cleaning up. You see people on mattresses, sleeping. You see people getting their fixes in the neck. Sweeping and mopping is not going to fix that,” said Iris Hernandez, 44. “It would be nice to walk out of your house with nothing to worry about — no needles, no overdoses.” She has lived near McPherson Square for 15 years, and said she helped reverse two overdoses on her block this summer.

In the park, Elvis Rosado, an outreach worker at the local needle exchange who also lives in the neighborhood and has reversed dozens of overdoses, picked through the grass with a box to collect used syringes. “It’s necessary — I just think too many people have locked themselves in and feel like whatever happens outside is none of their business,” he said. “We’re reminding you your community is still worth something.”

Around the corner from the Somerset El station, where a crew of workers was painting vacant storefronts, Daniel Hinkie and a friend sat with a few other people in active addiction, surrounded by piles of clothing, suitcases, and cardboard mattresses. Both were born and raised in Kensington; the friend, 31, who’s been addicted for four years and on the streets for two, still has family in the neighborhood.

“They’re only doing this because the mayor’s coming out,” said Hinkie. He said he believed the city only started to pay attention to the crisis in his neighborhood when people from outside Kensington started going there. “But the cleanup is a good thing,” he acknowledged. “The neighborhood needed it.”

Fighting the War Against Opioid Addiction with Narcan

PHILADELPHIA, PA (WTXF) – As the country continues to grapple with the opioid epidemic, many view overdose reversal medication as an essential tool to fight back.

Some counselors, like Rick Tull of Philadelphia’s Office of Behavioral Health, believe making these drugs more accessible deserves consideration.

“With all the people who passed, including the three people who passed in Philadelphia last night, I think it’s appropriate to have a moment of silence,” he says.

Wednesday was one in a series of events hosted by the city to get the message out that residents must be prepared to save a life when the moment calls for it. Participants heard Tull present the staggering statistics.

“Every day, 100 people will die from opioid overdoses nationwide, [with] at least three to four in Philadelphia alone,” he said.

But it honestly wasn’t the stats that made the biggest impact, it was the attendees..

Elvis Rosado works in addiction prevention and demonstrated Narcan because he knows firsthand its impact.

“The agency staff has reversed over 200 people. By myself, as of last week, I’m at 37 people,” he told FOX 29’s Bill Anderson.

Onzie Travis is a counselor who shocked attendees with his sincerity when he explained only one person he worked with died from drug use.

“Some people I’ve worked with have overdosed,” he said. “Fortunately, only one of them passed away. The others were revived.”

Health worker Allison Herens administered Narcan following a training session less than 24 hours after purchasing it.

“I purchased Narcan the day before, and when I got to Somerset Station a man on the platform overdosed and I reversed him,” she said.

Whether making Narcan more accessible makes users more likely to continue abusing opioids, the training sessions made a simple point clear. While we debate the merits of these overdose reversal drugs, we should save lives while we do it.

Fixing Philly – Caring for Those Leaving ‘El Campamento’

Today, Monday, July 31, the city and Conrail, will begin clearing out a Kensington site known as “El Campamento,” a camp that leads to a half-mile area along the railroad tracks that have long been a haven for heroin users looking to shoot up and hide from police.

As detailed recently in Time magazine, the area has been a problem for city officials and local residents for years until the city recently formed an agreement with Conrail that would see the area cleared by the end of this month. On Friday, city officials said that as this week’s clean-up gets underway, the city will also provide a temporary social services hub to help those struggling with addiction at the site at least until Wednesday, July 2.

But, what happens after that?

According to David T. Jones, the newly appointed head of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Philadelphia has capacity at its shelters for any heroin user who sees the end of El Campamento as the first step towards rehabilitation.

“We have capacity in our system to meet that need. Right now, we have capacity across the board,” he said, saying his office has been working with Conrail to anticipate the needs of those that will be pushed out of that area.

Jones’ department is funded to the tune of about $1 billion a year and, along with addiction services, the department manages the city’s mental health services and disability services, as well. And, that’s important, because, Jones said, it takes a rounded approach to be able to address issues of opioid addiction.

Along with needing to kick a drug addiction, Jones said, those who might have regularly visited El Campamento will likely need, what he called “social determinants,” which would include shelter, nutritional needs and food security and help building healthy relationships. To do this, he said, his department is set to help connect those who come to them for help breaking the cycle of opioid addiction with the many different organizations that work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services.

“We have been really thoughtful and we are really going to try and make all of those connections across life’s domain,” Jones said, for those leaving El Campamento.

Also, he said, a big part of helping rehabilitate someone who is coming out of an addiction to an opioid like heroin is helping them find a support system – something he called ‘families.” And, he noted, that sometimes, “families” don’t mean just a person’s blood-related kin.

“We are trying to connect them to some type of family unit,” said Jones. “We have families that we are born into and we have families that we create. We are talking about families in the broadest sense.”

Finally, when asked if the controversial topic of safe injection sites were an idea that might help Philadelphia combat its opioid crisis, Jones said that his office is now looking at new strategies to make a dent in the problem, and safe injections sites are an idea that they are considering.

“We are looking at all strategies that will help people in their recovery and safe injections sites are one of those strategies that we are looking at,” he said. “We are exploring that as a strategy.”

Mayor Addresses Opioid Crisis in Philadelphia

On Nov. 22, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the formation of a Task Force to combat the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia. The epidemic of abuse, addiction and overdose from opioids is a national crisis that now claims the lives of more than 28,000 Americans each year. Philadelphia is projected to have 840 drug overdose deaths in 2016, an increase from 2013 and nearly three times the number of homicides in the city. Eighty percent of those overdose deaths will involve opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

“The opioid epidemic has been taking lives, destroying families and undermining the quality of life of Philadelphians across the city,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “This is a significant social and public health challenge requiring a comprehensive, citywide approach.”

The task force will be co-chaired by two City Commissioners, Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Dr. Thomas Farley, Department of Public Health. It will be comprised of 16 members with representatives from a broad section of stakeholders who are affected by the epidemic including representatives from all relevant city departments and city council, addiction experts, researchers, physicians, business and community groups, persons with lived experience, state and federal government, and law enforcement.

“Virtually everyone selected to serve on this task force has been immersed in this issue for a long time taking aggressive and strategic action to combat it but our efforts have been too fragmented,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., Commissioner of DBHIDS. “Coming together as a single unit will allow us to harness our collective expertise and put us in a stronger position to make an impact in response to an unprecedented epidemic that for multiple years has claimed more lives in Philadelphia than gun violence.”

This summer, commissioners Evans and Farley issued a city wide warning that a dangerous heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl was circulating in Philadelphia. The drug combo killed at least 28 people between March 3 and April 20. Fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid is 100 times stronger than morphine. “We need everyone to help us solve this problem by reducing the number of people who become addicted, getting people who are addicted into treatment, and preventing fatal overdose in users who are not yet in treatment” said Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley.

The Task force will work through five sub-committees that will include additional members:

  1. Comprehensive data collection and sharing
  2. Public education and prevention strategies
  3. Justice system, law enforcement, and first responders
  4. Service access, best practices, and treatment providers
  5. Overdose prevention and harm reduction

The task force will meet semimonthly for three months starting Jan. 11. They are charged with developing a comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce opioid abuse, dependence and overdose in Philadelphia and draft a report of findings and recommendations for action to the Mayor within 90 days of their first meeting.

Philadelphia Enlists Doctors to Expand Opioid addiction treatment

At Philly Summit, Medical Professionals Discuss New Approach to Addiction

In 2015, more people died of opioid-related causes than by homicide in Philadelphia.On Tuesday, more than 100 doctors and medical professionals made their way out to a summit to find out more about treating addiction with the drug buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine is an opioid itself — but it helps opioid users recover from their addiction. Originally intended to be used as a pain medication, it’s been available to treat opiate dependence for more than a decade.

“When you have buprenorphine on your opiate receptors on your brain, other opioids are unable to occupy those receptors. So it’s both a treatment, it’s also protective,” said Dr. Rose Julius, the deputy chief medical officer for Community Behavioral Health in Philadelphia.

She’d like to see more providers in the city offer the drug.

But some in the medical field have been resistant to using the drug because of stigma and a lack of awareness, she said.

“There’s a commonly held perception by many lay people and people outside of the addiction treatment world that addiction treatment does not work,” Julius said. “In fact, when you apply evidence-based treatment, people can and do recover.”

Traditional recovery methods, such as outpatient detox programs followed by drug-free treatment, can be dangerous, experts say. Buprenorphine can help people during a critical time because it curbs cravings, diminishes withdrawal symptoms and decreases the odds of an overdose. But experts caution it shouldn’t be used without accompanying treatment.

Dr. Brendan Youngman is the associate medical director at COMHAR Inc.,  a mental health facility in Kensington.

He came to the summit because he thinks a program with buprenorphine, also known by the trade name Suboxone, could be a better fit for some patients than methadone treatment.

“A lot of them want to take on jobs, or do other activities, and it kind of creates a barrier to that. Suboxone allows them to take the medication home, take it on a weekly basis,” he explained. At a time when opioid overdose deaths are climbing, Philadelphia officials are hoping to expand buprenorphine’s availability.

This year, officials predict there will be almost 850 overdose deaths in Philadelphia, up from 700 in 2015.