When Jim Kenney took office in 2016 as mayor of Philadelphia, he inherited a city with a debatable stance on marijuana. While the former mayor was in office, he signed a law that imposes fines rather than jail sentences on individuals who are found to be in minor possession of marijuana (30 grams or less). Reportedly, the city’s goal isn’t to decriminalize marijuana but to avoid pinning drug records on people.

The measure also frees up police and judicial resources. In the first month after the law was passed, there was a 78 percent reduction in arrests for marijuana possession. Mayor Kenney appears to support state regulation of marijuana and said he believes that the safest place for the public to buy marijuana would be in a state-run shop. In this way, it seems that Mayor Kenney would be agreeable to the model of Amsterdam, Netherlands. However, the mayor and the city council do not have the power to totally decriminalize marijuana in the state.

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Substance Abuse Rates in Philadelphia

The national debate on the status of marijuana (decriminalize versus maintain the prohibition) is not representative of public opinion around drugs in general. The state of the drug problem in Philadelphia has likely awakened many of the residents to the devastating effect drugs can have.

The 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary highlights the following facts for Philadelphia:

  • Most all of the heroin that is available in Philadelphia is from South America, and many locals believe that it would be easy to get this drug if they sought it.
  • Although the availability of prescription opioids on the street has waned across America, such is not the case in Philadelphia.
  • Regarding cocaine, large shipments reportedly enter Philadelphia from Arizona, California, and Texas while the greatest supply still comes from Colombia.
  • PCP use rates are on the rise in Philadelphia.
  • The use of methamphetamine (“meth”) has stabilized; however, there are reports that when Philadelphia drug dealers run out of cocaine, they offer customers meth in its place.
  • The presence of synthetic cannabinoids (includes Spice, K2, and bath salts) has decreased in Philadelphia.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides additional information on the state of the drug problem in Philadelphia.

Per NIDA, in 2013, the following statistics reflect the realities of drug use in Philadelphia:

  • The most common drugs of abuse, based on self-reports and police detection, are heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol.
  • Among individuals who sought substance abuse treatment in Philadelphia, the most commonly abused drug was alcohol, heroin, marijuana, and then cocaine.
  • Of all treatment admissions in 2013, 39.7 percent were for alcohol.
  • Drug testing on mortality cases provides the following insights for 2013: 20 percent of all bodies examined tested positive for alcohol and 36.8 percent for heroin/morphine. In the case of deaths that involved alcohol and illegal drugs, 57.7 percent of the time the detected drug was heroin/morphine.
  • Regarding drug treatment, the number of admissions with heroin as the primary drug of abuse rose from 17.7 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012. Admissions data also revealed that 59.1 percent of those in treatment for heroin used the drug intravenously.
  • Mortality cases involving prescription opioids rose from 51.6 percent in 2011 to 65.5 percent in 2012.

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Get Away to Focus on Recovery

A photographer has brought attention to one of the areas most devastated by drug abuse in Philadelphia. For four years, starting in the winter of 2008, photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge shot portraits of people living with addiction on Kensington Avenue. The project was not intended; Stockbridge was seized by what he saw and wanted to record it. Stockbridge often spoke with the subjects of his portraits – individuals who shared stories of addiction, relapse, and commission of crimes such as prostitution. One woman photographed, Hope, is in recovery and back together with her two children. She told Stockbridge that it’s a daily battle, but a photograph of her and her family shows how important it is for her to maintain abstinence. Stockbridge’s photos have been published in different articles and can be seen on his blog Kensington Blues.

Seeking Drug Treatment in Philadelphia

The Fix features articles about the different facets of substance abuse, often written by people who have firsthand experience.

In an article about why it helps to go to rehab, The Fix makes the following helpful points:

  • Each time a person puts off getting treatment, the risk of overdose, health problems, a motor vehicle accident, and legal trouble persists.
  • In rehab, a recovering person joins a community of similarly situated people, all of whom are receiving dedicated care from addiction specialists.
  • Rehab provides recovering individuals with the skills and tools to uncover, examine, and start to heal the thoughts and emotions that underlie addiction.
  • Rehab is the safest way to start the detox process. Although some individuals go “cold turkey,” complications can always arise, especially when it comes to withdrawal from heroin, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.

Help for substance abuse is available from government, private, and nonprofit sources. The City of Philadelphia, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, maintains a service directory of treatment centers. The list includes low-cost or publicly funded services. A current review of the site reveals that there are 82 listings. The site also lists inpatient programs and outpatient programs.

There are different nonprofits in Philadelphia that are dedicated to helping individuals with various facets of the recovery process. For instance, during the aftercare process, it can be difficult for individuals to organize transportation to recovery meetings and therapist appointments. The Philadelphia nonprofit Gearing Up has a mission to help women undergoing recovery different trauma to ride bicycles to meet transportation needs and also to keep healthy. This nonprofit also provides mentoring, coaching, and programs that promote healthy living and personal growth.

To find additional nonprofits, search engines such as Great Nonprofits and Charity Navigator are available. Note: Directories may be designed to solicit volunteers and donations, but the information listed provides contact information and descriptions for nonprofits, including those that assist with recovery from substance abuse.

Knowing the treatment options available in Philadelphia can help a person overcome any resistance to recovery that owes to being unfamiliar with the process. In addition to reaching out directly to a rehab center, a person who is seeking help can ask a doctor, therapist, or social worker (among other professionals) for a referral. The key is to know that there are many dedicated professionals ready to help a person who has decided to start the recovery process.