Health

Needle Exchanges Are Busier Than Ever Thanks to the Opioid Crisis

Demand has doubled at what is commonly referred to as the largest open-air heroin market on the East Coast.

by Aaron Kase
May 12 2017, 8:44pm

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Thumping beats of hip-hop and reggaeton blast out of cars on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia. It's 11 in the morning, and people lie prone on park benches or hunched over on stoops under the elevated transit line. Inside an old church on the street corner, dozens of people—men, women, old, young, black, white, and Hispanic—fill a small room. One by one, they receive bags of needles, ties, and medical supplies, everything they need to fulfill an opiate addiction short of the drugs themselves.

"Do you have pipes?" someone asks. "No glass today," employee Sam Sitrin says.

Sitrin, 36, greets participants with warmth. She's provided syringes to many of them for years. "Test before you fly," she advises, reminding them their tolerance might be down if they haven't been using for awhile.

Another staff member walks through the room, shouting out an offer for free HIV and hepatitis C testing. While handing out supplies, Sitrin receives a phone call and sprints out of the church to assist someone who overdosed on a nearby street. The line in the room backs up with people eager to collect their needles.

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