HealthZette

The ‘Mecca’ for Opioid Addicts

Why are so many drug users choosing Philadelphia?

The epidemic of drug use, abuse, overdoses and accidental deaths knows no boundaries. The problem has escalated in nearly every corner of the country.

But one city has now been hit especially hard.

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Philadelphia continues to grow in its reputation as a major distribution hub for inexpensive, high-grade heroin. The problem came to light in July of this year, ahead of the Democratic National Convention there. Overdose deaths in the city are tragically on pace to hit 900 fatal overdoses by December 31 — a 30-percent increase over last year and a number that is triple the city’s homicide rate, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“Philadelphia is a ‘mecca’ for out-of-town addicts,” Justin Smith, 32, an addict who arrived six years ago from Ocean City, Maryland, told The Los Angeles Times. Smith sleeps on a stained mattress in a dank roadway tunnel in Kensington, in north Philadelphia.

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During the first weekend of December, nine people died of apparent drug overdoses in just one neighborhood in northern Philadelphia. That followed 50 overdoses and five deaths in just one day last month. The overdoses are believed to be the result of heroin laced with fentanyl.

“The purity is the best on the East Coast, and it’s easily accessible,” Patrick Trainor, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Philadelphia, told the LA Times. “It definitely draws people.”

Also, Interstate Highway 95 is adjacent to Kensington, which narcotics officers who spoke to the LA Times this summer called one of the “most flagrant open-air drug markets” on the eastern seaboard.

Related: A Letter to My Heroin Addict Daughter

The sister of one overdose victim told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his addiction came after getting hooked on pain medication earlier this year after a knee infection. “It’s just this heroin. This heroin. It’s killing people slowly,” said Edna Villafane. “I don’t think the meaning of brotherly love is here anymore.”