Philly’s opioid crisis

Firsthand stories from Philly drug users are showing up on Twitter

@Kensington4CUES tweets thoughts from the streets of Philadelphia.

kensington-twitter-opioidcues
Photo: Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn illustration
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

Clarification appended

On Jan. 29 at 9:50 a.m., six days after Philly announced plans to support a comprehensive user engagement site, quotes from local drug users began to show up on Twitter.

They came from @Kensington4CUES and @PHLUsers4CUES, two social media pages created specifically to add the voice of Philadelphia users to the conversation. Both accounts advocate for the proposed site, which would offer a safe space to use drugs and access to recovery resources in an effort to cut down on overdose deaths.

In addition to sharing words from people on the street, the handles tweet out a variety of info: relevant events and community meetings, tips on staying safe while using street drugs and direct quotes from drug users living in Philly.

So far, the two accounts only have around 150 followers, but are spreading an important perspective, advocates say.

“Like it or not, they’re part of the community,” said Evan Figueroa-Vargas, a program manager at Mental Health Partnerships who helped think of the idea for the account.

“Even if they’re sleeping under the bridge…their voice needs to be heard. Social media provides that platform to share that perspective.”

The people who run the account simply approach people who use drugs to gather their stories. Then, with permission, they publish direct quotes online (often anonymously), said Sterling Johnson of Mental Health Partnerships, who said he supports the account.

Drug users are the population that would be most impacted by the possible CUES, Johnson said, yet they’re a population typically excluded from the conversation.

“These people often are disrespected daily in every institution,” he explained, “because of the stigma that exists around people with substance use disorders and people with mental health conditions.”

For example, active drug users might not have the resources to attend the city’s community listening sessions on the opioid epidemic, Figueroa-Vargas noted, but that doesn’t mean their opinions shouldn’t be heard. He feels these Twitter accounts are a good partial solution because they meet users where they are. People who share their thoughts don’t have to worry about possible punishment or repercussions for speaking their mind.

“People will wonder, what do these people want?” Johnson said. “We want to provide that answer.”

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s opioid crisis stories.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Seems you’re the kind of person who really digs in. Want more? Sign up for our morning update, the quick, easy, free way to stay on top of Philly news.

Thanks for reading Billy Penn

Like the story above, everything we publish is powered by our members. If you enjoy reading, throw us a bone! Just $5/month makes more difference than you’d think.

Thanks for reading! We need you.

Member donations power our newsroom. If Billy Penn helps you feel more connected to Philly, we’d love to count you in. Will you join us?

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our newsroom. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?

Winning the local journalism game

Thank you: Your support as a member is powering our news gathering.

Know someone else who might like our work? Invite them to join.