- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Rep. Cruz's War on Drugs, Take 2
As Charlie posted yesterday, State Representative Angel Cruz (D-180) introduced a bill in the State Legislature that would ban needle exchange programs from operating within 500 feet of a residence or school. I posted similar concerns yesterday over this legislation which would essentially prevent a very successful needle exchange program, Prevention Point, from operating in Philadelphia. I sent Rep. Cruz's office an email yesterday voicing my concern and asking him to consider working with neighborhood groups in his district and Prevention Point to solve the issue of discarded needles rather than create a state law that would in effect ban needle exchange programs in urban areas. I also emphasized that research has overwhelmingly shown needle exchange programs to be effective at reducing the spread of new HIV infections while NOT increasing drug use rates.
This is the response I received from his office:
If you would like to forward your home address I will forward it to Prevention Point to use as a needle exchange site.
If you have any questions please feel free to call 215-291-5643.
Joseph H Evangelista, Executive Director
State Representative Angel Cruz
I sent a reply to Mr. Evangelista with my address, but reminded him that with the pending legislation it would be against the law for me to operate a needle exchange site from my home. I did offer that the closest location to my house might be at the Philadelphia Zoo, but that the $18 admission price might deter folks who are only concerned with obtaining a clean needle and stopping the spread of HIV in the process.
What concerns me most about this legislation is that Rep. Cruz could actually do something as a state legislator to protect the safety of his constituents - he could work at actually reducing drug use in his district and Philadelphia as a whole. But that's not what he is doing.
Philadelphia has a serious drug problem. While the 1980s onward saw a reduction in overall drug use, many researchers argue that the number of hard-core drug users (those who consume a lot of drugs) is actually higher today. This is usually marked by drug-related emergency department visits and deaths. A 2002 national report revealed that Philadelphia had three times the national average in heroin-related emergency department visits. Not surprisingly, many of Philadelphia's heroin problems are found in Rep. Cruz's district. For those of you who are not familiar with the 180th district, it is an area of North Philadelphia that (very) roughly encompasses Kensington Ave to the east, 5th Street to the West, Lehigh to the South and Wyoming to the North. Some of you might remember when part of this district had been perjoratively nicknamed "The Badlands" because of its open-air drug markets and scores of abandoned houses serving as "shooting galleries" during the 1990s. It was an area of rampant drug problems and these problems continue today. For my dissertation, I interviewed many former heroin addicts who were seeking treatment at a methadone maintenance program in South Philadelphia. Almost all of them would refer to locations in the 180th district where they would go to buy and use drugs (i.e., the infamous "K and A" intersection). Operation Safe Streets attempted to target some of these areas.
Drug addiction should be an issue that Rep. Cruz addresses. It is definitely a huge issue in his district. He should be going to Harrisburg and figuring out ways to direct Commonwealth resources to help combat this problem. But, unfortunately, the solution he has come up with, banning needle exchange programs, is reactionary and short-sighted. Rather than trying to work with the new mayor and city council to combat the illegal drug activity on the streets of his district, he is making what appears to be a calculated political move to satisfy a small number of angry constituents in his district. Rather than going to Harrisburg and demanding more money for drug treatment programs in his district, he is going to ask them to ban the only effective harm reduction program that Philadelphia has ever had. And, in the end, the residents in his district will be no safer from the violence associated with drug-dealing, and those in need of serious drug treatment will have one less resource to count on for information.