The Struggle to Clean Up Methadone Mile, Camp Heroin, Skid Row

By Victoria Kim 10/12/17

Recent efforts to "clean up" areas of heavy drug use are proving to be easier said than done.

Cities Try to Clean Up Methadone Mile, Camp Heroin, Skid Row
It's a multi-dimensional issue.

Is there hope for Boston’s “Methadone Mile”? 

The notorious drug hub is located near Boston Medical Center along Massachusetts Avenue. Drug use is so rampant there, amid methadone clinics and sober living homes, that SFGate calls it “the city’s most visible symbol of the national opioid crisis.”

Last year Boston Mayor Marty Walsh launched efforts to clean up the area by deploying outreach workers and establishing safe spaces to invite people in, off the streets.

A program by the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) established a “safe space” in the area last year for heroin users, where they can ride out highs under medical supervision, at no cost to them, without the fear of arrest.

The city also opened an Engagement Center in August that offers free coffee, air conditioning, TV, internet and more to draw people in and give them a place to pass the time.

So far, the city’s efforts to rebrand Methadone Mile as “Recovery Road” has connected more than 1,100 people to drug addiction treatment. But there’s still a lot of work to be done, says neighborhood association president George Stergios. “Residents still find discarded needles in their yards and people injecting drugs on their front steps or passed out in alleys behind their homes,” he told SFGate.

But some are optimistic that the efforts are beginning to “trickle down to street level” and will continue to have a positive impact. So far, the rate of fatal opioid overdose in Massachusetts fell about 5% in the first six months of this year, compared with the same time period last year.

Mayor Walsh, who is in recovery himself, says it’ll take time. “Recovery doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It’s about seeing this as the disease it is, and working hard to lift up everyone in the neighborhood so everyone’s quality of life improves.”

The Fix has followed similar efforts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and now San Francisco.

In January, Skid Row got a new “sobering center,” giving intoxicated people a place to go other than jail or a hospital. Portland and San Antonio have similar facilities, SFGate notes.

In San Francisco, city officials kicked off a new initiative in its Tenderloin and Mission districts to “connect low-level drug offenders to housing, mental health counseling and other services” instead of prosecuting them, SFGate reported. The initiative is inspired by the LEAD initiative that’s been running in Seattle for six years now.

And then there’s Philly’s “Camp Heroin,” notoriously profiled on The Dr. Oz Show this past April. After damning reports by Oz and local news outlets that called the area a “festering heroin hellscape” overrun with “garbage, drugs and death,” the city launched similar clean-up efforts.

Though Philadelphia officials kicked off efforts by trying to connect the now displaced homeless population who used to frequent the area with housing and treatment, volunteers reported in August that it’s been slow going

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr