Mayor Kenney's declaration of a disaster in Kensington because of a devastating opioid crisis that has claimed lives and shattered families won't come with federal or state dollars, nor does it trigger any significant response from the federal government. But it could be the act that makes a difference in the city's battle with this tragic crisis. The mayor is elevating the visibility of the problem, and forcing city government to react in a different way. For example, small teams representing departments from city government and other organizations will be on the ground in Kensington, working together to address the crisis.
Small, rapid response teams aren't exactly the way government works.
Soon after Kenney's announcement, former Gov. Ed Rendell announced he will join the board of a nonprofit organization that will create a safe injection site. He is challenging federal and state authorities to throw him in jail, as he did when he served as mayor and enabled a needle-exchange program.
In January, the city said it would allow a safe injection site to open under the management of a private organization not affiliated with government. Rendell's announcement is the first concrete step toward making such a site happen. The legality of sites where people go to take drugs under supervision and using clean needles is questioned by law enforcement authorities and is not universally accepted.
These events were further bookended by the announcement by District Attorney Larry Krasner that the city had busted a serious drug network and arrested 57 people.
It has been hard to find optimism in the face of this crisis, but these three events in the last week give us some hope that the tide could turn.
The opioid crisis has devastated communities, especially Kensington, Last year, 1,217 people in the city died of a drug overdose. So far, we're on track for a similar number in 2018. Kenney is right to call this a disaster. It's one that relies more on rebuilding families and communities than buildings.
Even so, our crisis is staggeringly expensive. That's because police, public health, social services, housing, and departments like L&I are all involved. The emergency operations center that Kenney outlined this week that requires city departments to work together on solutions makes sense.
While Kensington is being singled out, the whole city is being challenged by this crisis. Not only are people dying all over Philadelphia, but the shrapnel from the crisis hits children and families in traumatic ways. It also has the potential to be financially traumatic for the city.