The pipeline that sends Puerto Rican heroin addicts to recovery houses in Philadelphia — known as Air Bridge — is to be the subject of a hearing by the Pennsylvania House Human Services Committee in the city next week.
State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.), the committee chairman, says he is planning legislation intended to curb the exploitation of addicts. The hearings, set for Thursday in Hunting Park, will also address the city’s opioid crisis and will focus on a rough and dangerous encampment of 75 to 120 drug users by the Conrail tracks in Fairhill.
In November, the Inquirer detailed how Air Bridge is a pattern of exploitation stretching from the Caribbean to North Philadelphia that has increased the numbers of homeless and sick people in the city, torn-apart families, and confounded advocates.
Local ministers who run recovery houses in Kensington and Frankford are often part of Air Bridge, in some cases traveling to Puerto Rico themselves to entice substance abusers from the island to the mainland, the Inquirer reported. Promised a paradise in Philadelphia, where they can kick their drug habits in resort-like facilities, Puerto Rican heroin addicts instead find themselves in squalid recovery houses where many said they are abused, robbed of food stamp benefits, and offered no real help, the newspaper reported.
“Unfortunately, these people end up in unregulated treatment centers or wherever there is space and do not receive the services they need,” Cruz said in a statement. “As a result of mistreatment, these people end up running away from the facility and becoming homeless with a serious drug problem.”
A senator from Puerto Rico, Carmelo Rios Santiago, is scheduled to speak at the hearing along with Cruz. After the Inquirer story appeared, the Senate of Puerto Rico announced plans to conduct an investigation into the Air Bridge crisis. Also expected to speak is Luz Colon, director of Gov. Wolf’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs.
In Harrisburg, Cruz is still awaiting co-sponsors for his bill, according to Ashley McCahan, executive director of the House Human Services Committee.
Cruz was out of state Thursday and not reachable. But in a letter to House members, he proposed creating a program that would require the Department of Human Services to monitor the well-being of Puerto Ricans who sign up for drug treatment. DHS would be able to request that the attorney general investigate any violations and refer them to law enforcement.