During the meeting, City Councilman Mark Squilla told residents that there is “no plan” for a safe injection site in Philadelphia
At Wednesday night’s PROPAC meeting, representatives from Beacon Point Recovery Center, a 28-day rehabilitation clinic about to open at Temple University Hospital’s Northeastern Campus (formerly known as Northeastern Hospital), discussed how the clinic plans to operate in the neighborhood. Also discussed during the meeting were safe injection sites and the city’s homeless encampment pilot.
Rehabilitation Clinic at Temple University Hospital’s Northeastern Campus
The clinic’s owner, Jim O’Connor, said at the meeting he had met with State Rep. John Taylor, State Sen. Larry Farnese, and City Councilmen Mark Squilla and Bobby Henon to discuss the clinic. One of the biggest concerns the elected officials had, according to O’Connor, was the use of methadone.
“They did not want an expansion of the methadone clinic,” O’Connor said, referring to the methadone clinic that has been located in the building for the past three of four years. “We agreed.”
O’Connor called methadone “a treatment of the ’80s and the ‘90s.” Nowadays, he said, it’s better to use “medically assisted treatment,” which utilizes a drug called Vivitrol instead of methadone. Vivitrol is an injection taken once a month, whereas methadone is taken on a daily basis in pill form.
“None of this day-to-day nonsense because what you do is you’re not curing folks, you’re getting a path to recovery,” O’Connor said. “Methadone allows you to just continue on. You’re still an addict for forever.”
“Vivitrol is long-acting, extended-release naltrexone,” said Charles Wolf, the administrator of Beacon Point. “What happens is, with the extended release, naltrexone stays in the body and is time-released over a roughly 30-day period.”
Wolf said naltrexone is a non-narcotic.
“It’s not a narcotic, it’s not habit forming and it’s very effective,” he said.
Wolf also informed attendees of the PROPAC meeting that those in treatment will be housed in the building. He said they would invite 12-step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to come into the center to engage the residents in their recovery.
“Because, believe it or not,” Wolf said, “we’re just a pit stop along a long road of recovery.”
Interestingly, O’Connor said he was not permitted to treat anybody from Philadelphia who was on medical assistance.
“We can treat medically assisted patients on medical assistance for Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties,” he said, but “if you’re a medical assistance patient and you live in Philadelphia, I’m not allowed to treat you.”
Residents asked why this was, but not even O’Connor had an explanation.
“If any of your family members are medically assisted, the city will not allow us to accept it,” he said. “Because the city says, ‘I don’t have any money.’ Well, the city is kind of lying to you all and they’re lying to us.”
O’Connor explained the city shouldn’t have to pay for Medicaid anyway because it’s funded entirely by the federal government and state governments.
Beacon Point, however, will be able to treat patients from Philadelphia if they have their own private insurance.
Contrary to popular belief, many who struggle with addiction do have private insurance. This is largely because, according to the Community of Behavioral Health, O’Connor said, “the greatest age population [for those suffering from addiction] was 18–26 years old.” Since the Affordable Care Act allows for children to stay on their parents’ health-care plan until they’re 26, many of these people are insured, he said.
Squilla, who was present at the meeting, said “the goal was to get people in the city to have more access to treatment.”
He also said the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services had promised it would add more beds, but “pulled that, saying they didn’t have proper funding.”
Safe injection sites
During the meeting, Squilla told residents there is “no plan” for a safe injection site in Philadelphia upon the realization that some people in attendance at the meeting incorrectly believed that the rehabilitation facility would actually be a safe injection site.
“[The city doesn’t ]have any idea how it would work, they don’t know where it would go,” Squilla said. “At this point, I don’t know of any safe injection site that’s proposed anywhere, what it would look like, who would run it. The city said they wouldn’t run it, they would hire a nonprofit, but they have no idea how it would work. When that comes up, we’ll have meetings about that, but there’s really nothing to discuss.”
O’Connor weighed in as well: “On the safe injection site, I sat in City Council for three hours,” he said. “The city talked about it so we went out and did our own research and our research says that you can’t get a license for one in Pennsylvania because we know we’d get asked for it, they can’t be insured, and we talked to [Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh] Shapiro’s office and he said don’t even try to open it because I’ll close it down right away. So it’s not happening.”
Paul echoed that sentiment: “There will be no safe injection sites going into Northeastern Hospital. Ever. The attorney general, Shapiro, has made it perfectly clear…It’s not happening.”
Homeless encampment pilot
Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Supportive Housing, said at the meeting “it is the full intent of the Philadelphia Police Force to keep people from setting up tents, beds” under the tunnels that were cleaned out during the encampment pilot, which she lauded as a success. According to Hersh, 50 people went into treatment facilities during the pilot, which was more people than went in in the last six months.
“So we were very encouraged that we figured something out, right?” she said. “City government, we actually solved a problem and figured something out.”
Additionally, she said, the city opened two respites in the area that hold no more than 40 people each. She addressed a concern many residents had, which is the reason behind why the shelters had to be located in the Kensington area.
“The main reason we have them there is because that’s where people will go when they’re still using,” she said.
The city also opened up a “daytime program” for those who were in the encampments, according to Hersh.
“The shelters open up from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and then everybody can go to a daytime program down at Prevention Point,” Hersh said. “They have 75–100 people going there so that they can get treatment, they can get medical care, food, all kinds of things so that they’re not going back to the camps.”
Much to the disbelief of the meeting’s attendees, Hersh said that, contrary to popular belief, not a single person from the Conrail tracks moved under the bridges.
“You’re not going to believe me, but I’ll tell you anyway,” she said. “No one under the tunnels came from under the Conrail tracks. It’s an entirely new crowd. We literally interviewed every single person.”
Hersh said the entire pilot cost approximately $7 million. As of right now, Hersh, said there are no plans to do the other two bridges at Emerald Street and Frankford Avenue because there’s no money to do it.
“We know that Emerald is out there and needs to be done, and we know that Frankford needs to be done,” she said. “The budget is being worked out by City Council. I’m not involved in that. We told them what we think it would cost to do it.”
The city’s budget is expected to be finalized by June 30.
At the meeting, Hersh blamed pharmaceutical companies for the city and country’s opioid epidemic.
“It is a prescription drug problem,” she said. “You want to get mad at somebody? Get mad at the drug makers who lied to doctors and told everybody these were safe drugs.”
There will be no PROPAC meeting during July because of Independence Day.