According to city statistics, Philadelphia hit 1,250 opioid overdose deaths last year – a situation that Jose Benitez, CEO of Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP), knows all too well.
According to city statistics, Philadelphia hit 1,250 opioid overdose deaths last year – a situation that Jose Benitez, CEO of Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP), knows all too well. His organization, founded in 1991 by ACT UP Philadelphia, to distribute clean needles to addicts, has since expanded to include medical care, overdose prevention education, medication-assisted treatment and naloxone distribution.
Benitez, a Brooklyn native who holds a master's degree in social work from Temple University, is scheduled to speak to the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club about opioid addiction and needle exchanges on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The public is invited.
Below is a brief Q&A based on our conversation last week:
What made you want to get involved with PPP?
I thought it would save lives and prevent HIV infection for drug users. I continue to believe in that mission. I have family members who injected drugs and died from AIDS, which I have always carried with me.
What are the main problems you face?
Opioid use disorder has increased exponentially in the past few years. Raising money to keep programs like ours viable is one of my biggest ongoing challenges.
What do you say to people who reject needle exchanges in their neighborhood?
Harm reduction has a long history of reducing HIV infections in communities and assisting participants into drug and alcohol treatment. Drug use affects everyone: mothers, fathers, children, everyone. We follow the data. PPP provides services in neighborhoods where drugs are used and sold and the needs are greatest.
As far public officials go, who’s been the most helpful?
Mayor Jim Kenney and his leadership team have been very supportive of the harm reduction services we and other nonprofits provide across the city. We are grateful for their ongoing vision.
How has the pandemic affected your life?
At PPP, we never closed our doors to our participants during the early days of the pandemic. We had to pivot our services, moving as many as possible outdoors, and raise money for personal protective equipment, which was not in our budget. But our staff worked really hard to continue providing excellent care to our participants.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
One of my mentors in college told me I should make my life mission-based. I’ve never forgotten that.
What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?
PPP has experienced significant growth in the last five years. It has been a challenge to navigate the need for our services and continue to provide excellent care. But the work is vital and rewarding.
What person has had the greatest impact on your life?
My favorite college professor really influenced me as a social worker but also gave me lifelong advice which continues to help me through difficult times.
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