by Theresa Collins
on February 27, 2020
South Philadelphia made national news yesterday by becoming the first of its kind in this country to pass and secure a site for safe injection. A Safehouse or Safe Injection site is a location where people struggling with substance use disorder can go and secure supplies, medical attention and inject their narcotics with the supervision of medical and trained staff to prevent overdoses and other various complications. Harm reduction advocates have been spearheading the opioid epidemic and have made their presence known in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. As a therapist, facility director and person in recovery not only have I earned the right to weigh in on this controversial topic but I feel a sense of responsibility to speak for Directions Outpatient as well as my recovery community.
Ironically enough, I am the facility director of an outpatient facility exactly 3 blocks from the location of the safe injection site. Our facility was just as shocked as the community to learn of the safe injection site opening 3 blocks down. Safe injections sites have been successfully operating in other countries and statistically speaking, they have helped to diminish disease, HIV rates, Hepatitis rates, and accidental deaths. In theory, safe injection sites can help those struggling with opioid addiction. As a clinician, I look to the research and I have read the research and see where the research supports safe injection sites. The problem is anyone who is actually working on the front lines of the opioid epidemic can see some serious holes in this plan. While I applaud the efforts of harm reductionist, I question the motives behind this site and the nature of how this came about.
I have sat through harm reduction workshops and I have done my research. I don’t oppose harm reduction. Anyone who works in the field who opposes harm reduction just isn’t being realistic. I have one big concern with the harm reduction platform; where is the bridge between those struggling with addiction and getting them help? How is it that an outpatient facility who sees hundreds and hundreds of patients every year that is located 3 blocks from this site was not informed of the site location? If the goal is to meet addicts where they are mentally and physically with their active use but also have the resources to give them when they ask for help; how would you not be utilizing an outpatient as a resource 3 blocks away? Directions Outpatient has long been a fixture in the community of South Philadelphia. The owner and many staff members are born and raised in South Philadelphia. We have made efforts to give back to the community whether it is our annual Christmas drive, summer BBQ’s, sober New Year’s Eve parties or family groups open to the community for education and support; we have always put the community on our backs and have had an open door policy to anyone who wants to see the work that is being put in behind our doors. This is a community that needs help, but this is not a community that will be strong armed into their beliefs.
I have personally reached out to harm reduction advocates about collaboration and bridging the gap between harm reduction and treatment and I have been ignored. I have reached out to local and city papers when there has been an article about the opioid epidemic, specifically the effects it has on the tight knit community of South Philly and I have been ignored. What would be the point of shutting out a professional who is working in the community and works for a facility that has the support of the community? What would be the point of shutting out an organization that genuinely wants to help those struggling with substance use disorder but has questions about specific tactics and approaches? Is it because there is an agenda that needs to be pushed, or is it that true advocacy on the level of those struggling has no place in politics?
Directions outpatient will continue to sit at Broad and Wolf and will continue to keep its doors open to those struggling with substance use disorder and their families. Our doors are open to those who want to collaborate on the same goal, to improve the lives of those struggling with substance use disorder and eradicate the opioid epidemic. Until we all sit at the table together to come up with a solution from all angles, we will continue to fail an entire generation and their families. Those struggling with substance use disorder have enough stigma to combat, we need to stop setting the bar so low for success and fight for those suffering the most.