Op-ed: Legal injection sites are not the answer

177th Legislative District candidate Patty-Pat Kozlowski speaks out against safe injection sites: “For once, we are going to talk about the community that is being destroyed because of these addicts.”

By Patty-Pat Kozlowski

Former Mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell has just signed on to be the endorsed “celebrity” for Safehouse, a nonprofit group formed to create a safe injection site set to open in Philadelphia, allowing heroin users to inject drugs into their bodies while medical staff babysit them and make sure they do not overdose.

(It was rumored that the Phillie Phanatic and Gritty, the Flyers’ new mascot, were approached for this endorsement deal but both mascots body slammed the Safehouse executives and shot them with a T-shirt gun full of used hypodermic needles collected from Lehigh Avenue tunnels. Their message was clear. “We don’t want to screw our fans and Philadelphians.”)

Ed, in all honesty and respect, this is not a Memorial Day Parade or hoagie-eating contest where you are the beloved Eagles post-game commentator with oil and oregano on your tie as you call people wussies. This is our lives and livelihood — and you would never pull this horrible and devastating power-play if you were running for office.

You hail from beautiful and leafy East Falls and work at the luxurious Bellevue at Broad and Walnut streets. You do not know, by any stretch of the imagination, what’s it’s like to live in the neighborhoods surrounding this zombie apocalypse of a drug epidemic.

For once, we are going to talk about the community that is being destroyed because of these addicts. For once, we aren’t going to be shushed and given lip service as we watch our neighborhood and homes scourged by these addicts and their actions.

While millions of dollars in money and city services are thrown into trying to take care of these addicts, the people of Fishtown, Port Richmond, Bridesburg, Harrowgate, Kensington, Wissonoming, Tacony and Frankford have been ignored with their pleas for help as, day by day, theft by theft, assault by assault and needle by needle, our normalcy and quality of life have been taken away.

If you did live here, which none of you do, you would find your car window busted on any given morning so the addicts can steal your loose change and cell phone charger out of your car. They also take baby seats, soccer cleats and even schoolbags.

If you did live here, which you don’t, you would find human feces and urine up against our rec centers and an encampment of addicts camping out in and under playground equipment and throwing their needles in the ball fields and green spaces of our parks. On your ride to work, every red light would have a homeless addict holding a cardboard sign, nodding off and begging for money.

If you did live here, which, again, you don’t, you would see addicts pushing overflowing shopping carts full of metal-like stolen patio chairs, air conditioners, kids’ bikes, traffic signs, copper piping and grills — all taken from us, the people who do live here and have to sleep with our mouths closed, for fear of them taking the metal out of our fillings.

If you did live here, you wouldn’t feel safe walking home from the supermarket, bank or along our commercial corridors because these addicts are so desperate for cash, they will now mug you in broad daylight for your purse, wallet and groceries.

If you did live here, don’t get anything from Amazon, because, chances are, it will be stolen from your doorstep and porch within minutes of being delivered due to a roving crew of package thieves who canvass our neighborhoods looking for an easy score of goods to sell. They have it down to a science and know the delivery drivers and truck routes by heart.

From Torresdale Avenue in Wissinoming and Tacony, to Kensington and Allegheny avenues in the River Wards, prostitution is now as open and obvious as soft pretzels being sold on the corners. These women and, sometimes, men will do anything for that $5 or $10 to buy their next heroin high.

All these quality-of-life crimes stem from the heroin addicts. And if you think opening up a legal site in the River Wards and the Lower Northeast to allow them to shoot heroin (by the way, against the law) is going to stop this madness — think again.

Chris Lewis served as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police from 2010 until he retired in 2014. This is how he describes the scene outside one of Canada’s safe injection sites: “Spaced-out addicts and others in various states of undress were laying and loitering on sidewalks, boulevards and in allies, buying, selling, using and harassing passersby. It was not a nice place to be.”

David Carson, a local politician from Redmond, Washington, went to Vancouver to visit one of the sites touted as a major success by advocates. Instead, he saw lives and a whole neighborhood being destroyed. “It looked like a war zone. There were drug-addled, glassy-eyed people strewn about,” Carson said. “One man was lying shoeless and lifeless on his side on the cold sidewalk; I honestly couldn’t tell if he was alive or not. There were electronics like radios, cameras and car chargers (quite likely from smash-and-dash break-ins of cars) for sale and there was active drug dealing and prostitution going on in plain sight, with policemen standing by with their hands tied because they’ve been neutered by politicians. Once the decision to allow open use of drugs has been made for these safe injection sites, the open selling of drugs and crime will follow.”

And if you like statistics from law enforcement, here’s some info from our Mountie friends up north:

According to the Coroners Service of British Columbia, illicit drug overdose deaths have increased from 200 in 2007 to a projected 800 in 2016. Vancouver, with its large drug-user presence, has one of the highest rates of property crime on the continent with a 24-percent increase of crime, according to Canadian police statistics in 2017.

Where are you looking, Ed? Port Richmond’s Allegheny Avenue has some storefronts available across from Our Lady of Port Richmond Catholic School. Tacony and Wissinoming’s Torresdale Avenue business district — put it near Joe’s Steaks so you can grab lunch.

Would you dare upset the hip vibe of Front and Girard? Probably not, better put it along Frankford Avenue in Harrowgate, where they don’t sell $8 craft beer and gourmet tacos. Frankford and Cottman is the place to be when the Eagles win big, so you can record your Eagles’ post-game show and then stop and see if the addicts are being Narcanned back to life all in one trip.

You proudly state and dare anyone to come arrest you because you are going full force to open up a safe injection site in Philadelphia. And that’s probably because District Attorney Larry Krasner will get you out of jail ASAP, since he’s decriminalized these crimes anyway, further killing the quality of life for Philadelphians unlucky enough to live near the heroin ground zero epidemic.

But it will not go in East Falls, or next to your office at the Bellevue, will it?

Guv, you were wrong about two things. Last September 2017, you predicted that the Philadelphia Eagles would go 10–6. They went 13–3. Close, but no cigar.

This year, you predict that lending your name and reputation to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia would make it OK. It’s not OK. It’s the Chip Kelly Program for Making Things Worse. We don’t need to enable drug addiction. Legal injection sites are not the answer. In fact, they will only worsen the crisis and kill the neighborhoods we call home. ••

Patty-Pat Kozlowski is running in the 177th Legislative District.