Action News investigates open-air drug dens in Philadelphia

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Action News investigates open-air drug dens. Wendy Saltzman reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on Apri 28. (WPVI)

Philadelphia has become the home of one of the nation's most notorious open-air drug dens.

This drug haven sits in a pocket called "the tracks," located just a few miles from the towering high rises of center city and Philadelphia's most wealthy residents.

But "the tracks" is where countless addicts call home, and it's also where some spend their last seconds of life.

Action News asked one person on how they would describe it.

"Hell, 10 times over and worse," they said.

A recovering abuser we'll call "Matt" says drugs are sold on every corner of the Badlands, fueling hardcore addictions nearly impossible for many to escape.

"It is ground zero. I mean, people die down there - bodies are left down there for days," said Matt.

Action News spoke with the DEA and took a tour of the tracks.

"It was one of the worst things that I have ever seen in my 33 years of law enforcement," said Gary Tuggle of DEA SAC Philadelphia Field Division.

On our tour we saw needles scattered all over the ground, to the point where we needed to be careful where we walked.

An estimated 500,000 to a million syringes are dumped here. Users often shoot up in an area called "the lounge."

We found a mirror where users cut their drugs, and even a sign posted by a family in search of a loved one.

There are other signs of life - beds, shoes, and furniture covered in filth and grime litter this open air drug den.

One of the encampments is where a person users call "the doctor" is actually paid to shoot people up. There is a sign there that says you have to pay before any service is given.

"People that can't hit themselves they pay anywhere from a dollar to 4 or 5 bucks," said Matt.

And while the doctor didn't want to go on camera, he showed us his "medicine bag," which included needles and a rescue case with NARCAN.

The desperation and reality of life along "the tracks" was made all too real when we came upon a woman knocking on deaths door, in the midst of an overdose.

"I already overdosed nine times and DOA three times," said Mimi.

But it doesn't scare her. Mimi, who is 31-years-old, estimates her addiction costs $300 or $400 a day, and she fears she may die from it.

"Every day I plan on going to rehab, I just never make it," she said.

Anna Batten with Never Give Up Heaven Will Wait brings homeless addicts on "the tracks" food and clothes every week and tries to get them help.

"This is their house, this is their home. This is their shooting gallery down here because they have nowhere else to go," Batten said.

"At any given time there are probably anywhere from 120-150 people living all along the tracks," said Batten.

These often forgotten people, DEA SAC Garry Tuggle, says could be anyone.

"These are mothers, brothers, sisters. They are folks that come from all walks of life. There is no specific face of a heroin user," said Tuggle.

While on the other side of Philadelphia, it may seem easy to ignore the epidemic on the tracks, Tuggle is hopeful both the City of Philadelphia and the property owner Conrail are moving in the right direction.

The DEA says the city and Conrail are working on plans to clean up the area.

For more news and updates to her investigations, be sure to follow Wendy Saltzman on Facebook.

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healthhealthcheckdrugsinvestigationAction News InvestigationNorth Philadelphia
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