Drexel University famously prides itself on its commitment to civic engagement. Right from our onset as freshmen, we are continuously indoctrinated with this testament as we wade our way through the trusty Civic 101 course. We are taught that Drexel’s neighbors are its most glorious asset, and while the university does indeed remain effectively engaged with many of its neighbors, we’ve come to neglect some of our neighbors who are just a little further into the city: Kensington.
We’re only selectively helping populations surrounding us when we should be extending our utmost attention to our neighbors who are struggling with opioid addictions in parts of the city like Kensington.
Being in our safe Drexel bubble, it can be hard to think about the parts of the city that aren’t doing so well but the numbers are staggering. Philadelphia had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 among the nation’s 44 counties with over 1 million residents: 46 per 100,000 residents, with most attributed to the misuse of opioids. In 2017 alone, 1,217 people died from an overdose and an estimated 1,100 people were lost last year. Why aren’t we hearing more about these neighbors?
Drexel hasn’t been totally void of contributing in the battle against opioids, however. In December, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Drexel University College of Medicine a $1.5 million three-year grant to create a Center for Excellence for Urban Integrated Opioid Use Disorder Healthcare.
The center, which will expand and integrate addiction treatment services for high-risk Drexel Medicine patients, will surely have an impact, but is this really enough in the fight against these numbers?
Drexel alumnus Jeffrey Stockbridge recently brought the veracities of the opioid crisis to campus with his photography exhibit “Kensington Blues” in the Paul Peck Alumni Center. His photos, which are further adorned with additional audio and video footage, bring the brutalities of the crisis right to our doorstep. So now what?
Stockbridge is hoping this artistic undertaking will help to encourage the public to get involved and to support community harm reduction practices.
Philadelphia officials have been working to open a safe injection site called Safehouse. Similar facilities have existed for decades in Canada and throughout Europe, but federal drug laws — not to mention an undying stigma against drug use — have thwarted these efforts.
A place like this wouldn’t solve the opioid crisis, but it’s a start in the fight to save our neighbors. What this facility needs is money and power behind it — two things that synonymize the institution of Drexel.
To truly and fairly fulfill our civic potentials, Drexel needs to get more involved in efforts to halt the opioid crisis.
We need to back these efforts as individuals as well. These forgotten neighbors need our help. Everyone needs to take charge by offering their endless, judgment-free support to these people who are usually shunned from society for their addiction. We should view addiction as a disease, and not a moral failure. These people are our neighbors in need and we must treat them with the same dedicated compassion as we do our other neighbors closer to campus.
If all of us neighbors joined forces, we could promote a safer and healthier Philadelphia. Now that’s what we call Brotherly Love.