Philly Heroin Camp Cleans Up, But Addiction Remains An Issue

By Kelly Burch 08/30/17

After cleaning up the area known as "Camp Heroin," city officials are still faced with the issue of how to help people with addiction get treatment.

Dr. Oz visiting 2nd and Indiana
Dr. Oz visiting 2nd and Indiana back in April. Photo via YouTube

A month after Philadelphia officials began cleaning out a notorious encampment, some say that people are still in the area “sleeping on doorsteps” and using drugs despite the city’s promise to help find housing and treatment for the people being displaced. 

"The only thing you've done is clean up the tracks. That doesn't mean anything when you've got them all walking above," Roz Pichardo, a local volunteer, told Philadelphia Metro. "Nothing is happening, other than they moved them to somewhere else."

As part of the cleanup, the city set up an RV where people can sign up for services, but Pichardo said the system doesn’t take into account the barriers that many people who use drugs face. "They're hooked. But the fact of the matter is they were put out of what they considered home," she said. "Half of them don't have IDs. A lot of the services require ID, documentation they don't have.”

Last week alone Pichardo said that she administered Narcan to two people. 

The encampment sits on a section of unused railroad tracks owned by Conrail. The area—which a local newspaper described as a “festering heroin hellscape”—became so well-known for its abundance of "garbage, drugs and death" that in April Dr. Mehmet Oz visited the site to film a segment for his television show. “I just walked into hell,” Oz said at the time. 

Gary Tuggle, special agent in charge of DEA operations in Philadelphia, accompanied Oz on that day and predicted that a clean-up effort would not solve the problem. “That would only push it someplace else,” he said at the time. 

In July, the city and Conrail announced a clean-up effort for the area. Michael DiBerardinis, the city's managing director, said that officials were trying to address the root causes of the issue. “We are eliminating the situations that brought drug users in,” he told Metro. “We aren’t going to solve the problem overnight, be we are here for the long haul.”

City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents the area, said, “Never have I seen such a coordinated effort to make things happen.”

Pichardo, however, said that officials may not have realized that providing access to treatment wouldn’t solve the problem. 

"The only thing that makes it difficult for us is a lot of them are not ready to get clean," she said. "We can't make people go to detox. But we're always putting a bug in their ear, 'Are you ready yet?' ... We constantly, constantly remind them, 'Are you ready yet? Are you ready yet? This is no way to live.'"

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.