Hundreds March to Bring Awareness to Philly's Opioid Epidemic

Hundreds of people marched in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood while dressed in black to raise awareness for the region's opioid epidemic. NBC10's Brandon Hudson has the details.

(Published Friday, Aug. 1, 2017)

Hundreds of people dressed in black marched through Philadelphia’s Kensington section Thursday evening to bring awareness to the city’s opioid crisis.

The ‘March in Black’ began at the York-Dauphin stop off of SEPTA’s Market Frankford line around 6 p.m. The group marched on Kensington Avenue to Allegheny Avenue where the rally ended.

“It is no secret that Philadelphia is in the grips of an opioid epidemic,” organizers for the event wrote. “With an estimated 70,000 (1 in 22) Philadelphians currently afflicted, we must take swift and bold action to reduce the public harm, encourage responsible addiction management and bring those struggling out of the shadows.”

Thursday also marked International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual global event that raises awareness on drug overdoses. Cheri Honkala, who attended the march in Philly, told NBC10 she has many family members and friends who died from an overdose and is hoping her son's father isn't next on that list.

"Whenever I get a call in the middle of the night, I'm terrified that this overdose is going to be the last time my son sees his father," she said.

One of the reasons for the march not only was to show how opioid addiction doesn't just impact the people who use the drugs but also their loved ones and communities.

"We can stop the stigma of being ashamed," said Ronnie Sue Kiser. "And they're not junkies. They're not scumbags. They're people that we love."

Police and local politicians, including Philadelphia District Attorney candidates Larry Krasner and Beth Grossman, also attended the rally.

"We're ready to heal," said Dan Martino, the event's organizer. "We're ready to move forward. We're ready to beat this."

Last year, approximately 13 people per day died of a drug-related overdose in Pennsylvania, according to the report released in July by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Division and the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy.

The 4,642 deaths marked a 37 percent increase from 2015.

While Philadelphia's drug overdose death rate dropped, the city still led the state in total number of fatalities with 907. Montgomery County came in third with 230.

Opioids were found in 85 percent of overdose deaths across the state, according to the report. Fentanyl and related synthetic opioids were the most frequently identified controlled substance.

In fact, more than 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s counties reported fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, which is 50 percent more potent than heroin.

At the beginning of August, crews began clearing and securing "The Tracks," a notorious train stretch in Philly's Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods that earned a reputation over the years as a place for the drug addicted to get high mostly out of sight from police and neighbors. The clean up project included the removal of tons of debris and trash, used syringes and a lockdown of the trench's perimeter.

NBC10 chronicled the region’s opioid epidemic in the award-winning 2015 documentary “Generation Addicted.”