Philadelphia needs safe injection sites

The city of Philadelphia is, once again, clearing out drug-user encampments. After having declared a disaster in the Kensington section of the city, the next stage in the city’s plan to combat the opioid epidemic is to close the Frankford Avenue and Emerald Street bridge tunnel encampments by 2019.

The first encampment to be shut down will be the Frankford Avenue bridge camp by Nov. 15. The Emerald Street bridge camp will be cleared out by Jan. 15. One-month notice is being given to camp residents and outreach workers to get them connected to drug treatment and housing services.

The city has previously closed other camps, pushing the addicted individuals who live in them to other areas and destroying an important resource that addicted people so dearly need: community. Community is what has saved the lives of many addicts in the camps, because they would Narcan [apply emergency treatment for an opioid overdose] each other whenever needed and outreach workers would be able to reach them.

Workers World Party-Philadelphia pledges to remain on top of all developments on the subject of drug addiction and encampments, and will fight alongside residents to preserve their communities.

We declare the opioid epidemic a genocide against the proletariat, a genocide started by the Sackler family [owners of pharmaceutical company that produces painkiller oxycodone] in order to line their pockets!

To those who say that that’s going too far, let’s look at the definition of genocide. It’s the deliberate killing of a large group of people. The majority of people who are addicted today are working class. People are dying at an alarming rate, falling out in the streets, so let’s not beat around the bush by addressing the situation lightly.

The opioid profiteers lied about the addictive nature of OxyContin (oxycodone) and convinced doctors to overprescribe it. These doctors, in turn, saw that their patients were desperate for more OxyContin and put two and two together and cut them off. These addicted patients then went to the street to buy pills. When the pills became expensive and unaffordable, they turned to heroin. This is how the opioid epidemic started.

We’re now several years into the epidemic, and what do we have to show for all the bluster of politicians and cops? Higher incarceration rates and a higher death toll.

The way we’ve traditionally handled drug addiction, with mass incarceration and zero tolerance, has failed us. We need a new, revolutionary method of handling drug addiction, one that’s based on facts and science rather than idealism and moral outrage.

One of the tools that should be at the disposal of every town and city dealing with the opioid epidemic is a safe injection site. Safe injection sites are facilities where users of drugs go to get high in a safe and controlled manner. Stocked with Narcan, clean needles and other supplies, these facilities would create safer drug use conditions and increase the access that people living with addiction have to public health facilities. Studies have shown that they decrease overdoses and that, contrary to the thought of NIMBY [not in my back yard], they do not increase drug trafficking.

ACT UP Philadelphia fought for the city to open self-injection sites, citing the number of people in 2017 who died from overdoses. The city, surprisingly, has acquiesced to opening one. Called Safehouse, the project is only starting to get off the ground, but it looks like it’s going to be the first safe injection site opened in the United States.

What, exactly, will Safehouse provide? Mental and physical health assessment, drug testing kits, sterile needles and other injection equipment, Narcan, wound care and other basic medical services, referrals for primary health care, medication assisted treatment (methadone and buprenorphine), and access to specialists who will help with housing opportunities, public benefits, legal services and other support services. In simple terms, Safehouse will live up to its name and be a sanctuary for people living with an addiction.

Although we must be wary of anything opened up under capitalism, we must consider how helpful these tools would be if the people themselves managed and operated them. Capitalism has not eliminated drug addiction, and it cannot, because the system benefits too much from the misuse of drugs. Socialist countries, however, have eliminated or effectively treated it.

The proletariat can eliminate drug addiction, so let’s work toward that goal. Socialists and all progressive people can play an important part in saving lives by carrying Narcan, educating ourselves on addiction and fighting in the struggle.

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