PHILADELPHIA — In just six years, the number of deaths year from opioid overdoses in the U.S. has doubled to more than 42,000. The crisis spurred the surgeon general on Thursday to encourage more people to carry an antidote to reverse overdoses.
In Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth largest city, the opioid epidemic is so bad that city officials are now taking extreme measures to save lives. They want to give addicts a safe place to get high.
One 30-year-old woman who goes by Rachel has been getting high for the past 13 years.
“I’m actually trying to get a detox so I don’t want my habit to take control,” she said.
She’s a mother of two. But her desire to care for her kids, she says, isn’t strong enough to pull her from under a sheet of darkness and away from her body’s call for heroin.
Last year, 1,200 people died of a drug overdose in Philadelphia, a number that’s quadrupled in the past five years. To address that, Philadelphia is moving to become one of the first cities in the nation to allow safe injection sites, where people can go and shoot up heroin under the supervision of healthcare workers. It’s part of a new approach to tackle the opioid crisis by treating it as a public health issue.
The sites could end up in one neighborhood, known as Kensington, an area where you can see addicts sticking themselves with needles filled with drugs and living in encampments.
“In all the years I’ve been covering marginalized communities like this one here in Kensington, I’ve never seen anything close to this level of desperation,” said Christopher Moraff, a freelance journalist who has been covering the opioid epidemic.
At a public hearing that took place Wednesday night, those who opposed an injection site in their neighborhood explained why.
“When you say this is best for saving lives you’re not including our lives,” said one person. “You’re not thinking about me and what I experienced growing up and you’re not thinking about my children who will be exposed to this as long as we live.”
“We have a crisis here in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Tom Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner. “These facilities look sort of like a clinic. If they’re simply there to inject, they bring in their own drugs that they have bought on the street, they’re given sterile equipment and they inject at the site. If they were to overdose on site, there are medical staff on site who can revive them.”
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