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June 06, 2019

Drexel survey shows support in Kensington for overdose prevention site

Philadelphia continues to weigh public safety, community concerns over proposal to combat deadly addiction

Opioids Addiction
Carroll - Kensington Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

North Front Street in Kensington.

Kensington residents show considerable support for an overdose prevention site to help curb the neighborhood's crisis of deadly drug addiction, according to new survey results from researchers at Drexel University.

Overdose prevention sites (OPS) — alternately called supervised injection and safe consumption facilities — have become a subject of intense debate as Philadelphia weighs becoming the first U.S. city to sanction them.

The Drexel study, published in the Journal of Urban Health, was led by public health researcher Alexis M. Roth, who has previously come out in support of the idea.

While previous surveys have shown at most half of Philadelphia residents support creating an OPS, Roth's survey was narrowed down to residents in the 19134 ZIP code containing Kensington.

“Since Kensington has been a proposed site for an OPS, it is important to hear the opinions from residents and businesses about placing them in their neighborhoods as well as their exposure to drug related activity,” Roth said.

Drexel researchers conducted in-person surveys of 360 adult residents and 79 business owners and staff in Kensington. Ninety percent of the residents and 63% of the business owners said they support opening an OPS in Kensington.

“In this sample, nine out of 10 people report frequently seeing drug use, discarded paraphernalia, and overdose in their neighborhood,” Roth continued. “Our findings suggest residents and businesses are open to an intervention that has been shown to improve these issues in the cities where they have been implemented.”

In several European cities and in Australia, OPS's have been operating since the 1980's. Political resistance in the United States has been strong, eliciting threats of federal action from former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when the Philadelphia proposal surfaced.

The Drexel study noted demographic differences in the responses they received in their survey. Residents who currently use opioids were more likely to support the idea (97%) than those who don't use them (85%). Among business owners and staff, Asian, African American, and Hispanic/Latinx respondents were far more likely to support the idea (69% in favor) than white respondents (27%).

Kensington has been hard-hit by fatal drug overdoses during the past few years, representing the highest concentration in the city. Public health officials recently reported a modest reduction in deaths from 2017 to 2018, but acknowledged more must be done to limit the toll on the community.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in April that the city will take its time evaluating the benefits and potential drawbacks of opening an overdose prevention site, whether in Kensington or anywhere else in the city. The city will look to balance public safety and community concerns with the needs of those suffering from addiction.

“Kensington is the epicenter of the opioid crisis, but we know that addiction is a citywide problem," Kenney said in a statement. "We cannot open one OPS in Kensington and expect it to address this issue at scale. Multiple sites are needed and should be explored by Safehouse (the organization proposing the Kensington site) or other OPS operators."

Drexel researchers hope to further explore whether proximity to a proposed OPS influences support for the policy and whether or not opinions change after a site has been opened.

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