Helping those who need it the most

“Between 2014 and 2016, we lost 2,261 people to overdose deaths,” said Roland Lamb, the city’s Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual DisAbility Services. According to Lamb, the city is expecting to end the year with over 1,200 people dead from overdoses.

At this month’s Port Richmond On Patrol and Civic meeting, representatives from organizations helping to fight the city’s and the River Wards’ opiate problem were on hand to talk to residents about how to deal with the area’s problem with homeless drug abusers.

“Between 2014 and 2016, we lost 2,261 people to overdose deaths,” said Roland Lamb, the city’s Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual DisAbility Services. According to Lamb, the city is expecting to end the year with more than 1,200 people dead from overdoses.

According to Elvis Rosado, the education and outreach coordinator for Prevention Point, a private nonprofit organization providing harm reduction services to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, there are between 55,000 and 60,000 injection drug users in Philadelphia. Additionally, Rosado said 90 percent of ambulance calls in the Kensington area are from drug overdoses.

“That’s just injection drug users,” Rosado said. “We’re not talking about the ones who are chewing and smoking and snorting and everything else.”

The Department of Health oversees all things that pertain to mental health treatment, drug and alcohol treatment as well as intellectual disability services, according to Lamb.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are in an epidemic of mammoth proportions,” he said. “It’s really important that we have this dialogue together to begin to understand what are some of the best ways we can work together to address the issues in your community.”

Lamb and Rosado each highlighted how local residents can help with the opioid crisis.

One way residents is to encourage panhandlers to get treatment. Encourage them to reach out to treatment services like Prevention Point.

Another way residents can help is to be supportive of the homeless.

“Continuous outreach and engagement and unconditional support and positive regard for another human being,” said Rosado, is what helps “somebody suffering from a neurological disease.”

Rosado told a quick anecdote about being supportive:

“I had a lady in the ’90s that was on Kensington and Church, and every morning on my way to work she’d invite me to a date,” he said. “I would say ‘no, but here’s my card if you ever want help.’ She hit me up on Facebook probably about seven-eight years ago and said that ‘you probably won’t remember me, but I was always the girl who was tripping on the avenue [and] used to solicit you every morning, and I wanted to let you know that I’m several years sober now. I’m married, I have some children, and the one thing that gave me the ability to be able to get myself back together was the fact that you treated me like a human being when I was at my worst. And you kept giving me your card, and eventually I realized maybe I am worth saving.”

Lamb said that some of the issues are political.

“Only two cents of every dollar [spent on the war on drugs] is spent on treatment and preventions,” said Lamb. The rest is all spent on the consequences of use.

“We have to begin to change the message around,” he said. “Communities are going to have to change the message around.”