Critics Still Question Success of Free Drug Testing in Philly

Despite the apparent popularity of Mayor Jim Kenney’s drug take-back program, many public-health officials say the city’s pledge of free testing to any children, parents, or others receiving free health care was an ideal…

Critics Still Question Success of Free Drug Testing in Philly

Despite the apparent popularity of Mayor Jim Kenney’s drug take-back program, many public-health officials say the city’s pledge of free testing to any children, parents, or others receiving free health care was an ideal program to enact.

It got parents to test their children’s urine for substances without fear of quarantine. It also created a surveillance mechanism to keep track of when kids are brought into children’s health care facilities, where public-health workers could be called in quickly to intervene if drugs were present.

Police had been, until this program, the primary points of contact for anyone seeking treatment for an opioid problem, whether on the street or inside a hospital.

Mayor Kenney said the media had been critical of the city’s public-health campaign, citing the June arrest of a 20-year-old man in one of Philadelphia’s police precincts as a reason why he thought the program would be a success. The promotion of the police initiative has since been aborted, although dozens of other arrests have been made at the precinct.

And not everyone in the city is on board with the policy. Some immigrants and their advocates have complained the police program was detaining legitimate asylum seekers. Others worry that some neighborhood clinics and houses of worship hosting the drug take-back events were turning a blind eye to people bringing dangerous drugs into their facilities.

Jonathan Wright, the deputy director of Philadelphia’s Department of Health, called the program “a brilliant idea” that has proven easy to implement.

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