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Two Delco Correctional Officers Arrested for Allegedly Smuggling Fentanyl into County Prison

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Two correctional officers at the Delaware County prison were arrested Thursday and have been charged with smuggling into the prison a substance that tested positive for fentanyl , court filings and affidavits show.

Adham Diab, 43, and Lina Tarrad, 35, were both arrested by the Delaware County Criminal Investigations Division (CID). Both face three charges: drug possession, possession of contraband, and conspiracy to commit a crime with contraband and/or a possession of a drug. The arrest affidavits say Diab and Tarrad are married.

Magisterial District Judge Wendy B. Roberts set bail at $300,000 for both, requiring a ten percent deposit for release. The court docket says neither was able to post bail.

According to Diab’s arrest affidavit, a prison investigator went into a bathroom that is off limits to the incarcerated population. Diab had been in that bathroom moments before.

The investigator noticed a baggy of a substance that looked like a drug that had apparently been left behind. Investigators then sequestered both Diab and Tarrad and began to question them.

“Diab was then searched and in his pants pockets were one small baggie containing a white substance, stamped ‘waverunner,’” and a similar bag was found on Tarrad, according to the affidavits.

“The narcotics was field tested…and tested positive for Fentanyl,” the CID detective said in the affidavit.

A spokeswoman for the county declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The website, which tracks inmates all across the country, indicated that both suspects had been transferred to a different prison, most likely so the two would not be residents among the same prison population they had been policing just days before.

Fentanyl acts similar to opioids like heroin, but is “a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also estimates that “[o]ver 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”

Court records also show the pair were involved in a landlord-tenant dispute last year in which the plaintiff, NOPG Owner LLC, was awarded over $9,000 in damages of unpaid rent.

The arrests come just weeks after the president of the prison employees union, Frank Kwaning, publicly went before the Delaware County Council to tell the five-member board that employee morale at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility was dangerously low.

“The [union] members are as frustrated as they could be. So through the members, I am told to let you know that the council should step in,” Kwaning said on Dec. 13. “Go to the facility. Talk to the members. The morale is at its lowest level. One may have thought that with this interim agreement that we have with the $3 raise that we have gotten — and we thank the council for agreeing with the union for the $3 raise — we were of the view that with the $3 raise, the morale was going to be up. But because of the treatment that has been meted out to the members, the morale is at its lowest, at best.”

Councilmember Richard Womack told Kwaning the county “would likely try and see if we could fix that in some kind of way.” Councilman Brian Madden, who heads the county Jail Oversight board refuted Kwaning’s notion that the council had been hands-off in its management style.

“Mr. Kwaning, I recognize your position as head of the union. Given the fact there is an open negotiation over an agreement, I will, as always, refrain from engaging in a back-and-forth about such things,” Madden said. “But I will certainly remind you and others that I am regularly at the facility and I am regularly interacting with the workforce. So, you know, any suggestion that council is not involved regularly with our facility would be inaccurate.”

The GWHCF was the last privately managed prison in Pennsylvania until 2022. In February of that year, the county installed its own handpicked warden. In April, the facility shifted back to government control.

Since then, the annual budget of the prison has gone up, recidivism has not been reduced, deaths per year at the facility are up, even though the daily population has been down by about nineteen percent.

Update: This article has been modified from its original version to include information about the 2023 landlord-tenant dispute involving Tarrad and Diab.

Dean, Houlahan Part of New Bipartisan Fentanyl Prevention Caucus

From a press release

U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D-CO), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Ken Calvert (R-CA) announced the Bipartisan Fentanyl Prevention Caucus. The co-chairs will coordinate with members from both sides of the aisle to combat the nationwide spike in fentanyl-related overdoses and drug poisonings and will work with federal and state law enforcement.

Members will also work to educate the public and Congress, in cooperation with prevention and awareness groups, to better understand the ongoing threat of fentanyl in communities across America.

As in many areas of the country, fentanyl is hitting the Delaware Valley hard, leading to overdoses, deaths and addiction.

“Fentanyl has led to a devastating spike in the already alarming rate of overdoses ravaging every corner of our nation — it is crucial that we commit ourselves to a bipartisan effort to combat fentanyl-related overdoses and drug poisoning,” said Dean (D-Montgomery). “Every day we lose more than a jetliner of loved ones — Congress must do more. And, so, I’m grateful to help lead this caucus to promote education and legislation that will help save lives.”

Neguse said, “Fentanyl is devastating communities throughout America—in every state, and in every region. Policymakers cannot ignore this deadly crisis, and must work together to develop solutions. It is in the interest of every American to put an end to fentanyl poisonings. Through the Bipartisan Fentanyl Prevention Caucus, my colleagues and I are joining together to find and implement solutions, and ultimately save lives.”

“Fentanyl is not a new danger. But the deadly threat it poses has now reached every corner of our country and no community is being spared. We’ve lost so many lives to this scourge. So many families will never be the same,” Issa said. “The stakes could not be more clear: If we don’t win the fentanyl fight, we’re not going to just lose my community or my neighbor’s. Or any one of my colleagues. We’re going to lose this country. This caucus is needed now as we tell the truth, develop solutions, and save lives.”

Calvert said, “Fentanyl is devastating the lives of Americans in every corner of our country. With fentanyl-related deaths climbing every year, we need new solutions to stop this alarming trend. This is not a partisan issue – it’s a national crisis. I’m hopeful that by working in a bipartisan manner, the Fentanyl Prevention Caucus can help educate Americans on the dangers of fentanyl and provide real solutions that will stop the destruction of this deadly drug”

The caucus members include: Angie Craig (D-MN), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Ruben Gallego (D-TX), Nikki Budzinski (D-IL), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Raúl Grijalva (D-NM), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Don Bacon (R-NE), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Andre Carson (D-IN), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Lance Gooden (R-TX), Bob Latta (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Jake LaTurner (R-KS), Barry Moore (R-AL), David Valadeo (R-CA), and Robert Aderholt (R-AL).

Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that continues to drive the overdose epidemic, its presence has been found in all 50 states. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in 2021 to 2022. Of these deaths, an overwhelming sixty-seven percent involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

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SIMMONS: Tackling Fentanyl Crisis Starts With Giving Law Enforcement the Best Technology Available

n his State of the Union address, President Biden pledged to tackle one of the biggest problems facing Americans: the fentanyl crisis. With record-high drug overdose deaths, and kids under 14 dying at the highest rate among all age groups, it is clear that new approaches are required. Unfortunately, the administration is doubling down on outdated technology to solve a problem that we know requires intelligent, modern solutions to stay ahead of those who want to harm our communities.

If we are going to get serious about saving lives, we need an all-of-the-above approach that starts with providing our law enforcement officers with the cutting-edge capabilities at our disposal to detect and seize deadly drugs before they enter our communities.

The mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is to “Protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity.” As someone who proudly worked at this law enforcement agency for 25 years, I know that CBP officers around the country take their duty seriously. Yet, what we ask of CBP officers is, frankly, staggering.

With more than 11 million maritime containers arriving at our seaports annually, another 11 million arriving at land ports by truck, and 2.7 million by rail, these law enforcement officers face the herculean task of adequately identifying and stopping all illegal drugs and weapons during the security screening process. Unfortunately, CBP scans less than 10 percent of all cargo entering the United States, even though the mandate is 100 percent, as required by the 9/11 Commission report and subsequent federal legislation related to the scanning of maritime cargo.

To make matters worse, the scanning is done only with the limited capability X-ray machines. Over the last 50 years, CBP has used X-ray machines to search for drugs and other illicit materials at our ports and borders. Unfortunately, X-ray machines have limited penetration capabilities and cannot detect anomalies inside dense cargo. This well-known inadequacy — the inability to see through dense cargo — allows criminals to circumvent existing scanning systems by hiding fentanyl and other drugs within dense materials that X-ray cannot penetrate.

Much more must be done, and the best technology available must be used. For example, in 2019, CBP conducted a pilot program at the U.S.-Mexico border with a newly developed advanced muon tomography system, which can effectively detect anomalies within dense cargo. During the pilot program, this system was responsible for a significant drug seizure after the smuggling methodology used during the pilot easily defeated the on-site X-ray machines.

The need to deploy advanced scanning technology is so urgent that America’s busiest port, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, requested to Congress that a comprehensive approach be deployed there and integrated into CBP’s current suite of technology. Furthermore, several members of Congress, in both the House and Senate, have urged CBP to procure and deploy additional passive scanning technology. Notably, funding is already available through the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Funding Bill, and CBP would need to redirect a small portion of those funds toward more comprehensive systems.

Illicit drugs are ravaging our cities and robbing too many Americans of their lives. President Biden is right to prioritize the battle against fentanyl, but let’s be clear: our ports of entry are our last line of defense before drugs enter our communities, and we must give our law enforcement officers the best technology available to spot and stop dangerous drugs. 

This should also be a priority for all lawmakers — regardless of party affiliation or home state. Until it is, we will continue to lose this critical fight — one that we desperately need to win for the future of our country.

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Fentanyl Crisis Hits the Delaware Valley Hard

Jorge Valdez-Rosas didn’t realize law enforcement was hot on his trail when he checked into the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia last month.

Like many drug-trafficking organizations smuggling drugs into the U.S., the one linked to the suspected drug mule from Arizona was allegedly tied to Mexico, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Investigators intercepted and monitored Valdez-Rosas’ communications and learned he was setting up a deal to sell a large quantity of fentanyl to a third party on behalf of unnamed co-conspirators.

On Jan. 31, members of a federal task force and detectives from Montgomery County and Upper Merion Township staked out Rosas-Valdez at the hotel.

He showed up with a large duffel bag–later seized and revealed to contain five kilograms of fentanyl.

The 166,000 confiscated doses were worth an estimated $1.6 million, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said, praising authorities for a recovery that saved “countless lives.”

These drug busts are common in Pennsylvania, where fentanyl–which reemerged in the state’s drug supply in 2013–is now the “dominant opioid” among users who once preferred heroin, according to a state attorney general’s report released last year.

“I had a healthy habit,” says Richard Phillip, who got sober with the help of The Last Stop founder Ed “Eddie Z” Zampitella.

Phillip remembers stealing fentanyl patches from his mother following her diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He used fentanyl for more than a decade before the drug was widely available.

“It hits you really hard, punches you in the face,” Phillip, originally from the Camden area, recalled of the drug’s effects. “You get that rushed feeling. It gives you that boost. You are a rocket. Life’s good, but it doesn’t last.”

Last year, the DEA seized more than 15,000 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill every American. Over the first three months of 2022, Pennsylvania authorities seized more fentanyl than they had in all of 2021. The commonwealth was among five states that submitted the most samples containing fentanyl to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System.

According to federal officials, Mexican cartels and criminal organizations smuggle most of the drugs across the southern border. Traffickers prefer selling fentanyl because it’s cheaper to produce and more potent, with effects 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

Fentanyl is often laced into counterfeit pills, making it easier for traffickers to conceal than when in powder form, a disturbing trend that Pennsylvania officials say has contributed to a spike in fatal overdoses. The grip of the crisis led former Gov. Tom Wolf to sign a law that decriminalized fentanyl strips, once considered drug paraphernalia.

“It’s running rampant. There’s more fentanyl than there’s dope. I don’t think they make dope no more,” Zampitella, who runs a sober clubhouse in the epicenter of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, told DVJournal during a phone interview while visiting Chicago. “This is like a vacation. It’s nothing like Philly. We told people, ‘You should come to Kensington.’”

Last year, Philadelphia’s DEA division reported that 20 percent of analyzed fentanyl seizures were in the form of pills and tablets. The agency seized a record 9.5 million counterfeit drugs the year before.

Nationwide, about 80 percent of more than 80,000 opioid deaths were attributable to fentanyl, federal statistics show. With the nation’s third-highest number of fatal overdoses, Pennsylvania saw overdose deaths jumped nearly 17 percent in 2020. They crested above 5,400 in 2021, meaning an average of 15 Pennsylvanians died each day, with about 78 percent of cases involving fentanyl, according to the state statistics. The stark impact was on display in Philadelphia, where fentanyl was detected in 27 percent of submissions analyzed by the police department’s forensics unit in 2021, compared with less than 1 percent six years before.

While the death toll has been staggering, prosecutors have had their hands full with cases like that of Rosas-Valdez, one of the thousands of alleged drug dealers and traffickers arrested since 2017.

Through March 2022, the Attorney General’s Office said more than 8,100 people were nabbed on drug charges, and a combined 8.7 million doses of heroin and fentanyl were taken off Pennsylvania’s streets.

Former attorney general and current Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, also went after big pharmaceutical companies for allegedly contributing to the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing addictive prescription painkillers. In one of the nation’s largest settlements, Pennsylvania received $26 billion from Johnson & Johnson and three other drug companies from Johnson & Johnson and three other drug companies.

On the national stage, a heated debate has unfolded between Democrats and Republicans about who is fueling the flow of fentanyl into the country. Some Republicans linked fentanyl-related deaths with the record number of migrants entering the U.S. along the Mexican border, NBC reported. Rep Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), shot down the claims as a “pernicious … attempt to conflate the issues of migrants seeking asylum through our legal processes with the very real scourge of fentanyl trafficking.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was “unequivocally false” that asylum-seekers were smuggling fentanyl into the country.

However, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) laid the blame squarely on the Biden administration for the fentanyl deaths of men, women, and children. 

“One hundred thousand people died last year of drug overdoses,” said Cruz. “My sister died of a drug overdose a decade ago. This is a crisis, but it is a manmade crisis. This administration made a conscious decision to open the borders.”

According to government data cited by NBC, most fentanyl seizures along the southern border were made at ports of entry, where American citizens, foreign travelers, and commercial trucks are screened. The Office of Field Operations accounted for 84 percent of the 14,104 pounds of fentanyl seized along the Mexican border in the fiscal year 2022, while Border Patrol seized only 2,200 pounds of fentanyl over the same period,

For people struggling with addiction, the political conversations taking place in the nation’s capital are less important than the battles being waged back home.

Phillip said he’s lucky to have broken free from the stranglehold of drugs.

“Once you’ve eaten from the fruit, you can’t unknow that feeling. Sometimes you think life is good, but you know what would make it better,” Phillip, who is now pursuing a master’s of divinity from the Catholic Theological Union, told DVJournal.

He still remembers the nights he would roam the streets of Camden, begging strangers to pray for God’s intercession.

“I know we don’t bargain with God … but I remember saying, ‘You put me on a path to save my soul, and I’ll give you my life because it ain’t worth nothing to me anymore,'” Phillip said. “Something came into me that I stopped feeling empty.”

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Oz, Ciarrocchi Hit Chester County Campaign Trail

The Delaware Valley may be trending Democratic, but that did not stop the nation’s top Republican from coming to Chester County to rally the GOP troops.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel revved up a crowd of Republican activists Saturday morning at the Desmond Hotel in Malvern. They gathered to knock on doors for U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and Guy Ciarrocchi, the GOP challenger to incumbent Rep. Chrissy Houlahan. Her message: Vote Republican in Pennsylvania and fire Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer from their leadership posts in Washington.

NRC Chair Ronna McDaniel talks to Chester County Republicans at the Desmond Hotel on October 15, 2022.

Oz, who appears to be closing the polling gap with his opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, continued his campaign focus on the crime issue.

“I was in Philadelphia at a prayer vigil in Olney for a murder that happened, last year, 561 murders, the worst of any major city. Shocking,” Oz said. While he was there, someone told him it was easier to find fentanyl than baby formula.

“I was stunned,” he said. “She was right. How could the land of opportunity, the land of plenty, leave people with fentanyl and no baby formula?”

He told the group it was important to knock on doors and “get people excited” about what Republican candidates represent.

“You’re talking about changing the lives of lots of people around you,” said Oz. “There are many that love this country passionately, and see it as the land of opportunity, the land of plenty, but it no longer seems to represent that,” Oz said. “My dad was an immigrant who grew up with a dirt floor. He didn’t have a [political] party. When I was 8 years old, I asked him what party are we going to be. And he looked around and he said, ‘You know what? We’re going to be Republicans…Because Republicans have better ideas.’”

“Here’s my commitment to you: We have plans that work for the economy.”


A crowd of GOP supporters gathers at the Desmond Hotel in Malvern, PA


Ciarrocchi called out President Joe Biden’s energy policy, an important topic in Pennsylvania.

“It’s amazing watching the president as gas prices go up and people are in trouble,” he said. “As he flies around to the other side of the world looking for energy. It’s like a game. It’s right under our feet.”

“So, we have the solution. We will make America energy independent,” he said.

Ciarrocchi also used the opportunity to tout the GOP’s message of hope. “We’re here today because we still believe in the

Dr. Oz shakes hands with congressional candidate Guy CiarrocchiAmerican dream, despite everything the Democratic Party has done, to crush our economy, to push parents out of schools, to make us feel less safe at home and less safe around the world.

“All of us that are running are here today for one reason, we still believe in the American dream,” he said. “We offer hope. We offer solutions. We can fix the mess they created.

“We will unleash our small businesses to revive our economy. We will support our police officers. We will fight crime. We will make sure every person feels safe to go out and live and work. We will restore the rule of law. We know that parents are the bedrock of the family and the bedrock of the community. Under our watch, when Sen. Oz and I go to Washington the Attorney General of the United States will never, ever threaten parents with using the FBI again.”

Former state Rep. Duane Milne came to support Oz and Ciarrocchi. Oz is the “best-qualified candidate,” said Milne. And Ciarrocchi brings “a tremendous world of experience” and “will make an excellent congressman.”

Republican Committeeman Dave Sommers, of West Goshen, said, “People are excited to support conservative candidates.”

Elizabeth Hyde, who traveled from Montgomery County to attend, said Oz is “a successful, smart man who has his heart in the right direction. I think he’s sincere and his values align with mine. We need more doctors in the Senate since the healthcare system and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are such a big part of the economy.”

The event was followed by a training session for Young Republicans and other volunteers who were going to hand out campaign literature.

Guy Ciarrocchi talks to resident Sandy Lee

Ciarrocchi headed out to Tredyffrin Township to knock on doors and talk to potential voters. Most of the residents he spoke with were friendly, he said.

Like Oz, he talked about the crime issue and its impact on local communities, including a carjacking at a Target in Devon, an armed robbery at Whole Foods in Tredyffrin, and a stabbing at Bertucci’s on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne. He said the CVS drug store in East Goshen was also held up.

“We should not be blasé to carjackings or a robbery or a stabbing,” he told Delaware Valley Journal.

And grab-and-go shoplifters are targeting stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Walmart, Ciarrocchi said. Clerks are being trained when to try to stop them and when not to.

Crime is “not an academic discussion,” he said. But, he added, “This can be stopped.”


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ALEXANDER: PA Leaders Must Come Together to Access Opioid Treatment Funds and Save Lives

President Joe Biden’s host of initiatives to address drug addiction and overdose is at risk of falling on deaf ears if he does not address the rapid rise in fatalities related to opioid abuse.

With the United States focused on battling COVID-19, new information revealed that over one million drug overdose deaths have occurred since the government began collecting this data in the late 1990s. That same data shows trends continuing in the wrong direction, with overdose deaths for the 12-month period ending in April 2021 over 100,000 for the first time ever. Ending this tragic tide will take greater commitment that the United States has yet to put forth.

Unfortunately, government mandates tend to cast wide nets. In this case, it includes consistent talk that prescription opioids should be lumped into the same category as illegal fentanyl. In 2019, prescription opioids were dispensed at the lowest rate in 14 years. Overdose deaths, however, continued to climb.

According to the CDC, “most of the increases in fentanyl deaths from 2013-2016 did not involve prescription fentanyl but were related to illicitly-made fentanyl that is being mixed with or sold as heroin—with or without the users’ knowledge and increasing as counterfeit pills.” Solely blaming prescription opioids for these woes distorts reality.

Eradicating opioid abuse and these fatalities requires greater expansion of quality treatment programs. Leading medical centers like Johns Hopkins have repeatedly told policymakers that treatment relieves withdrawal and addresses cravings. Even with many of the companies that manufacture legal opioids independently funding treatment and education programs, opioid overdoses are still rising as Mexican drug cartels and Chinese drug smugglers flood the United States with illicit fentanyl. Additional interdiction efforts will be needed to end these trafficking networks.

A glimmer of hope emerged in July 2021 with the announcement of a landmark $26 billion settlement that a bipartisan group of state attorneys general negotiated with three opioid distributors and manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. With that deal, states and communities that sign on have the potential to receive billions of dollars to fund recovery, treatment, and prevention programs. As of January 2022, 44 states, D.C. and five territories have fully entered into the agreement providing the “critical mass” needed to move forward with finalizing the settlement.

Although the Keystone State signed onto the deal, it still has some challenges to overcome. In order to access the full allotment of funds available for Pennsylvania, local governments must also agree to participate. Unfortunately, only 75 percent of counties have signed on thus far. A notable holdout is City of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who to date has refused to join the settlement negotiated by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a fellow Democrat. In doing so the Philadelphia D.A. is jeopardizing the $1 billion in hard-fought funds the citizens of the commonwealth are entitled to.

D.A. Krasner, who has been litigating opioid companies since 2018, believes the $5 million to $8 million per year over 18 years ($90-$144 million in total) Philadelphia is projected to receive is inadequate. A holdout like that might prove unwise, considering how unlikely it would be for Philadelphia to negotiate a more robust deal than what was reached by the combined efforts of the majority of state attorneys general.

Further, opting-out would delay access to funds for treatment programs and might mean Philadelphia will ultimately get nothing, should their independent efforts prove unsuccessful. With the majority of Pennsylvania’s drug overdoses occurring in Philadelphia and with that number rising rapidly, especially among African Americans, the city of brotherly love can ill afford to reject such resources.

The opioid epidemic has cost too many American lives. Instead of spending millions of dollars and countless time on lawsuits, the nation needs to expand successful treatment, prevention, and education programs to reduce deaths and help Americans become productive. Now, more than ever, the nation must provide greater attention to saving lives. Opting into this latest lawsuit settlement would be a prudent start.

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The ‘Last Stop’ Offers Hope for Drug Addicts in Kensington

Driving through the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, you might think it was a war zone. And that would be accurate if it’s the “War on Drugs” that America has been losing since President Richard Nixon coined the term.

Here and there, people stand on sidewalks staring into space or in small groups with their belongings on the sidewalk nearby.

Amid the chaos, rubble and squalor, is one point of light: The Last Stop, an Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous clubhouse on Somerset Street. Founded by Ed “Eddie Z” Zampitella around 30 years ago, the club offers food and solace to many of those addicts who are trying to turn their lives around.

Zampitella, who got hooked on sniffing glue as a child, said running the club helps him stay sober. In addition to food, there are AA and NA meetings.

“Trust God, clean house and help others,” said Zampitella. “They’re the three major rules.”

Zampitella struggles with addiction himself. He was sober for 25 years then had a relapse and is now sober again for four years.

“The main thing is I’ve got four years,” he said.

“A guy grew up in the neighborhood, his name is Nate, and he always hated The Last Stop,” said Zampitella. “And one day, for some reason he was thirsty. And he came in for a glass of water and he stayed ever since. He’s sober now. He grew up watching us as a kid and he always avoided us. He came in and he stayed. It changed his life, a glass of water. Kindness.”

Nowadays, the drug of choice for many is fentanyl. It’s been flooding in, through the mail from China and through the wide-open southern border. There were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths nationally from April 2020 to April 2021, The Wall Street Journal reports. In 2020, 1,214 people died of overdoses in Philadelphia, according to a city health department report, an increase of 6 percent from the previous year. Fentanyl was involved in 81 percent of those deaths. In the first quarter of 2021, 306 people died of drug overdoses in Philadelphia compared to 265 the same period of 2020.

Oddly, the city recently announced a pilot program for Narcan vending machines in the south and southwestern sections of the city, not Kensington.

“Fentanyl, crack, alcohol, people are broken,” said Zampitella. “They want to escape from whatever happened in the past. Just on this block we had seven people die (in about four years). Just on this block alone. But don’t forget a lot of people stayed sober. We’re here for that one person who comes in the door.”

A wall in The Last Stop bears the names of patrons who died. An opposite wall has the names of those who are sober and alive. Although, Zampitella grew up in Kensington, many people who come there to buy drugs are from the suburbs. And people come from up and down the East Coast, having heard that they’ll have easy access to drugs.

One case that broke Zampitella’s heart was a young Bucks County mother, who had been told by a doctor to stop using methamphetamine because of her heart condition.

“She looked horrible. I wanted to see if she wanted help. She said she had a boyfriend. I said, ‘You have a boyfriend and he’s letting you look like this?’ And she didn’t get help. She didn’t want to leave. And two weeks later, she OD’d.”

“Because I’m from the neighborhood I know those who don’t belong,” he said when asked how he knew people from the suburbs are there. He will talk to people and ask them where they’re from and what they do for a living to try to get them to open up and maybe get sober.

“For some reason, Kensington, because it’s on Facebook, they come here and they get caught up in the mess. The drug scene. They’re homeless because they’re using drugs. They’d sleep in a tent,” he said.

“Before they even come down a lot of them are broken, maybe molested,” he said. There can be family issues or “they were teased as kids. There are other problems before they come down here.”

Zampitella, 65, spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal in the club, where free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are handed out for lunch. Spaghetti or hot dogs and beans might be on the menu for dinner. A Saturday dessert favorite is banana splits. The food, along with water, is free. Coffee is 75 cents and soda is $1.

Zampitella never learned to read as a kid and relies on Christi McGough, who helps him manage the club. And he has opened two other AA/NA clubs, one in Camden and recently another in Chicago.

Asked about funding, Zampitella said while they are not a nonprofit for tax purposes people donate, sometimes in the name of a relative who has gotten help.

Zampitella is divorced with two grown children. He said his “selfishness” caused the breakup.  Zampitella is now very religious. A Catholic, he said he models his life on Dorothy Day, an activist and a founder of the Catholic Workers Movement. Pope Francis called Day one of four “exemplary Americans.”

“Eddie Z cares more about the health and survival of the struggling unfortunates on Kensington Avenue than he does about himself,” said Main Line TV filmmaker John Riccuitti, who, with Jill Frechie, spent more than a year in the blighted neighborhood making the documentary film “Kensington in Crisis.”   “He has unselfishly helped hundreds conquer the terrible disease of addiction.”

When he’s helping addicts reach sobriety, Zampitella takes them to Graffiti Pier, an area of railroad trestles next to the Delaware River, and sits with them while they detox. That process can last varying amounts time but he and others at The Last Stop are patient, he said.

“You go down and they’ve never seen anything like that, the quietness, the fresh air, the water, there’s no noise,” he said. “They see the graffiti. There’s nowhere to cop drugs at. Something happens. People, I get Muslims, Jews, I say, ‘Look, your God was dope. You believed in that and it didn’t work for you. Just give it a shot.’” But, he said, he is not trying to change anyone’s religion.

“The best thing for us is to live by example,” he said. “The kindness. The graffiti Pier, I’m not saying it has magic. It’s us.”

For Thanksgiving, The Last Stop is having a free turkey dinner around 9 p.m. after the 8 p.m. meeting. Call Christi for information at (732) 547-3582 for information or to make a donation.


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