Four miles from downtown Philadelphia, an area called El Campamento is home to 75 to 125 addicts at any given time. Many more transient users come each day to get high. It is the festering epicenter of Philadelphia’s heroin epidemic, a territory the Drug Enforcement Administration considers the East Coast’s largest heroin market in an area often referred to as the Badlands. It has gone largely ignored for three decades, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pressure is mounting from a confluence of political, societal, and economic forces to clean up what the newspaper calls “this gulch of horrors.” From a task force convened by the mayor to address the opioid epidemic, to growing development around the site, and an increase in rail traffic, a flash point seems to have been reached.
“This neighborhood has been struggling for decades, and when my administration came into office last year, we said this has to stop,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “It’s not an easy issue, it’s going to take many years and a ton of money, so that may have been why it hasn’t been addressed in the past – but that’s not an excuse.” Chief DEA agent Gary Tuggle, a 33-year law-enforcement veteran, said he’d thought he’d seen it all until he saw this area. “I questioned whether I was still in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s like a third-world country.” Historically, heroin addiction was generational, with family and older friends introducing new users to the drug. Prescription opioids have introduced a whole new – and growing – set of users to addiction and heroin, making it the worst narcotics epidemic Tuggle said he’s ever seen.