The former site of "El Campamento," a location in North Philly notorious for open-air drug use. (Matthew Haubenstein)
The former site of "El Campamento," a location in North Philly notorious for open-air drug use. (Matthew Haubenstein)

The opioid crisis demands our mercy


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They say it was 1,200 people.

City officials believe that’s how many lives were lost in Philadelphia in 2017 due to opioid-related overdoses. That's four times more than the number of people who were murdered in the city the same year, according to a report from WHYY.

This tragic statistic is reflected in Governor Tom Wolf’s declaration this week in which he deemed the opioid epidemic a statewide disaster.

Here in Philly, we’re considering taking a chance to turn the tide of the epidemic by establishing the country’s first safe injection site, a place where people can bring their drugs to have them injected by medical personnel, thereby preventing overdoses.

The site’s staff would also be able to connect people struggling with substance use with resources that can help them.

The idea is a bold one, and it’s been met with concerns from city officials, police and members of the community in the Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods, the area where the safe injection site would likely be placed.

Critics worry the site would lead to an increase in drug use and crime, while others question the logistics of operating an establishment where illegal narcotics will be present. Some opponents also fear punishment from a hostile federal government.

Advocates for the plan say the site will not lead to more crime and will reduce the number of fatal overdoses, citing mounting evidence to that end.

(Bobby Allyn of WHYY and Claire Sasko of Philadelphia Magazine have both offered extensive coverage of the safe injection site debate.)

The fact that so many lives were lost in Philadelphia in the past year, let alone the rest of the state and country, should be enough to justify that we give a safe injection site a solid try.

Whether we can agree or not that substance use disorder is a legitimate and complex disease, we must remember “addicts” are not dying. Our people are dying.

Our friends and neighbors are dying. Our sisters and brothers are dying. Our mothers and fathers are dying.

Our children are dying.

The humanity surrounding this issue should be at the forefront of this conversation, not questions of legality, accountability and self-control.

Those opposed to a safe injection site should trade their resentment, self-righteousness or fear for mercy, and remember how many lives we lost to opioids last year alone.

They say it was 1,200 people.

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