Philadelphia drug crisis needs ‘harm reduction’: Advocate

(NewsNation) — Advocates for the “harm reduction” philosophy of dealing with Philadelphia’s drug crisis are pushing back on the new mayor’s plan to crack down on the city’s most notorious open-air drug market.

“Calling it ‘Zombieland’ is very stigmatizing language,” said Destinie Campanella, with the group Savage Sisters Recovery. “They are not zombies. They are humans,” she told NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports” on Wednesday.

“Zombieland” is the nickname for Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, which has been plagued by the city’s homelessness and addictions crises for many years.

Mayor Cherelle Parker recently began steps to reverse some of her predecessor’s “harm reduction” strategies, partly by defunding programs that provide clean needles to addicts.

The city’s director of HIV health says she’s preparing for a spike in HIV cases she says will result from that action.

“I don’t think that people should be criminalized for a public health crisis,” Campanella said. She says one big reason for the continued increase in opioid overdoses in Philadelphia isn’t more drugs, it’s more powerful drugs.

Campanella acknowledged Kensington residents’ fears over drug users shooting up, nodding off and sleeping on the streets.

“I’m very concerned for the residential community. This is a community that has been historically neglected and marginalized decades upon decades.”

“Harm reduction” is an umbrella term referring to public health policies designed to lessen the negative consequences of many human behaviors. “Designated driver” campaigns, safe sex promotion and supervised drug-use sites are among the practices falling under the definition.

But when it comes to drug use, the philosophy is beginning to fall out of favor in many places. Parker’s promise to get tougher on drugs helped her win election. Oregon’s governor signed a bill that recriminalizes possession of small amounts of certain drugs. And San Francisco voters recently approved a measure that will require welfare recipients to be screened for illegal drug use.

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