Prompted by "A Hidden Hellscape," published in the Inquirer and Daily News and on Philly.com in February, The Dr. Oz Show is coming to Philadelphia on Monday to tour what may be the nation’s most notorious heroin corridor.
The show’s host, Mehmet Oz, has been called America’s most influential and controversial physician.
Oz is expected to take a tour of the Conrail tracks that cut through Fairhill and West Kensington. About 100 people who are addicted to heroin live in squalor along the rail embankment. Hundreds more who abuse opioids visit the gulch every day to get high.
The surrounding community has been plagued for 30 years by what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers the East Coast’s largest heroin market.
Recently, the area has also been a focus of attention for the large numbers of Puerto Rican drug users who were promised treatment in Philadelphia while on the island, only to be dumped into dubious drug-recovery houses in Kensington and Frankford.
Oz is expected to conduct on-site interviews with Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, and the head of the local DEA office, Gary Tuggle. The syndicated show, seen locally on Fox29 at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, is to be broadcast in mid-May.
On Thursday, city officials blasted Conrail for not taking action to remove the people who live under a series of four bridges. The city has demanded that Conrail clear out an estimated 500,000 used syringes, haul away tons of dumped garbage, and cut down trees and weeds that camouflage illegal activities. The Department of Licenses and Inspections took Conrail to task for eight violations that included allowing makeshift hovels to exist on its property.
Talks between the city and the railroad stalled in late March.
In a draft of an agreement obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, Conrail agreed to clean up the needles, trash, and other debris and remove the vegetation. The proposal called for Conrail to erect an eight-foot, prison-grade fence from the Second Street bridge to the Kensington Avenue bridge, and install lighting and security cameras along the right-of-way. The city agreed to coordinate policing and continue removing blight.
Any effort to clean up the area would require displacing the people who consider the area their home. The document did not address which agency would be responsible for finding housing and treatment for them.
It’s not clear why negotiations broke down. Both the city and the railroad declined to comment. In a statement issued Thursday, the city it had "yet to receive an acceptable plan" from Conrail.
Oz, the best-selling author of several books on personal health, considers Philadelphia a second home. He grew up in Delaware, earned his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and picked up his M.B.A. at the Wharton School.
“He holds Philadelphia near and dear to his heart,” said a city spokeswoman. “That’s why he’s coming.”
In recent years, Oz has been sharply rebuked by professional peers, who have criticized him for endorsing unproven treatments and hosting celebrities who have promoted questionable health practices for profit.