During a recent trip to Philadelphia ahead of the 2022 midterms, I was attacked for reporting on the weekly needle exchange that takes place on Kensington Avenue. I wanted to come to Philly to highlight the reality of progressive policy in action. However, I was not prepared for how horrific this city really is.
Larry Krasner, the soft on crime DA, and organizations such as Prevention Point, which hands out free needles to drug users, have created arguably some of the most horrifying streets I have ever seen.
Upon arrival, I could immediately sense that this was an extremely dangerous area. Groups of drug addicts frequent every corner and exposed needles are everywhere.
It only took about 10 minutes of walking down Kensington Ave before I was able to actively watch a drug user use a clean needle to mix what he told me was a blend of fentanyl and cocaine.
"I'm mixing cocaine and fentanyl together to produce what's called a speedball, and it basically causes you to have a more intense rush" he shared.
A woman, interested in our conversation stopped by to listen and began mixing together what she shared was "fentanyl and tranq." Tranq is short for the horse or elephant tranquilizer users are shoot up.
She also had brand new needles and I wanted to know where she received them.
"Prevention Point," she shared, "and they give you like an ID with a number so like, say the cops got you and you had this stuff, you wouldn't get arrested for paraphernalia cause you have like an ID saying, like you're allowed to get them," she explained.
Speaking to drug users on Kensington Ave., I kept hearing the same name: "Prevention Point." After some quick research, I discovered that this was the organization providing drug users with free needles.
The Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP) program boasts its "harm reduction" services as "policies, programs, and practices that aim to reduce the harm associated with drug use in people unable or unwilling to stop."
They also provide services such as free breakfast and coffee everyday, a wound care clinic, free medical care, but most notable for those who frequent the area is their "Syringe Service Program."
Every Tuesday and Friday they have their needle exchange in which drug users can bring in dirty, used needles and exchange them for new sterile ones.
While advocates for the program share that it reduces HIV rates and "reduces harm," the users of this program share a very different story.
Not only can you find exposed dirty needles all over the streets, but a user of the program explained how addicts are actually using Prevention Point's services to fund their addictions.
"They'll give you whatever you take in," he began, "say you take 100 needles in, they give you 200, they'll give you double. As profit everyone's doing it as profit, you go out here, you sell two needles for one dollar, that's how you get your high then," he explained.
He then went on to talk about how drug dealers are also taking advantage of this program.
"Even the dealers are doing it, you can go to any block and you can buy needles. Everyone is taking advantage of it because there's so many needles out here," he shared.
He then showed us his "emergency 10 pack" given to him by Prevention Point. It contained 10 clean needles, water, a cooker, "everything you need to get high," he explained.
He then went on to talk about how Prevention Point is working outside of the law, "because the needle exchange in Pennsylvania is illegal," he shared.
It is still illegal to possess hard drugs or drug paraphernalia in the state of Pennsylvania, however, "In 1992, after lobbying efforts by the members of PPP, Mayor Ed Rendell issued an Executive Order (4-92), legalizing the possession of syringes in Philadelphia and overriding the laws of the State of Pennsylvania, which are still in existence today."
Users who receive needles from Prevention Point are given a card alongside their needles that authorizes them to, "be in possession of syringes in the city of Philadelphia."
On top of funding drug use through its needle exchange program, the user who exposed how addicts are profiting off of free needles also shared how PPP encourages people to stay on the streets.
"Everything out here, everything out here is contributing to the problem," he began, "people are coming out here they're feeding the homeless, they're clothing us, they're giving us tents, they're giving you everything you need so you don't have to leave here," he explained.
He went on to share that Prevention Point will help users who seek help for their addiction via their housing, clinics or case management programs, however, "from my experience, even though they're using all of these resources, they're still getting high at the end of the day, they're just using it to get further ahead with housing and everything else."
The program is funded in majority by government contracts (aka taxpayer dollars) and Philadelphia locals share that Kensington has been abandoned by local leadership.
After reporting on Skid Row in LA, San Francisco, New York City and Portland, I would say that Philadelphia is home to the most horrific streets that I have ever seen. Unsanitary conditions, the open drug market and the needle filled streets are like nothing I have ever seen.
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