As Democrats flock to Philadelphia for their national convention, they won’t be the only tourists. Hundreds of heroin addicts have washed up in Philadelphia, law enforcement officials say, drawn to a city that is a major distribution hub for inexpensive, high-grade heroin from Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, reports the Chicago Tribune. Philadelphia is a “mecca” for out-of-town addicts, said Justin Smith, 32, an addict who arrived six years ago from Ocean City, Md., and sleeps on a stained mattress in a dank roadway tunnel in north Philadelphia. “People come in from all over to get their stuff here,” agreed Dave Parke, a transit police sergeant on the elevated train line that runs in a part of Kensington that cops call the Badlands. Narcotics agents describe the area, four miles from the Liberty Bell and seven from the Wells Fargo Center where Democrats convene Monday, as among the most flagrant open-air drug markets on the East Coast.
Last month, Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized street heroin that was up to 92 percent pure, twice the potency of dope seized 10 years ago. Heroin use has doubled across the U.S. since 2010, part of an epidemic of opioid abuse that began in the 1990s, when doctors began prescribing higher doses of powerful painkillers. Philadelphia became a critical stop on the heroin delivery route for a simple reason. It is in the middle of major heroin markets in the Mid-Atlantic region. Interstate 95, the major East Coast north-south artery, skirts the Badlands. That makes it easy for drug runners to drop off supplies for local street sales and distribution to other cities. The per capita rate of overdose deaths in Philadelphia — 45 for every 100,000 people — is three times higher than in Los Angeles or Chicago, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year saw 720 drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia, up 10 percent from the year before; about one in four involved heroin.