WARNING: This story contains graphic images.
Philadelphia's most lawless, drug-infested neighborhood became more distressed and filled with anguish in 2023, a former resident said as he called on local officials to take action.
"Kensington has descended deeper into despair in 2023 as a whole. Progress has not been made," Frank Rodriguez, a recovering heroin addict who used to deal drugs in the neighborhood, told Fox News. "Kensington is the land of the lawless. Any vice that you have, anything that you'd like to participate in, you can go to Kensington and the cops aren't going to bother you."
Over 1,400 people in Philadelphia — a new record — died from drug overdoses in 2022, according to the city health department's most recently available data. That's an 11% increase from the year prior.
Kensington, a neighborhood internationally known for its open-air drug dealing and consumption, is among the areas most impacted by overdose deaths, data show.
"If this isn't the time to double back and reassess everything, then when is?" Rodriguez said. "City officials, I think they've accepted defeat."
Open drug use has been normalized in the neighborhood, and residents, including children, regularly see addicts injecting fentanyl and smoking meth. The area has also become a hot spot for drug users addicted to xylazine. The animal tranquilizer, which has infiltrated the nation’s illicit drug supply, was found in over 90% of drug samples tested in Philadelphia in 2021, according to the city's health department.
Xylazine — often called tranq or the zombie drug — can eat away flesh, leaving users with open wounds.
"You're seeing people that are literally skin and bones and their skin is rotting off," Rodriguez told Fox News. "It's a horrible comparison, but it almost reminds me of pictures that we see of the Holocaust."
"There's literally people that come from all around America to go to Kensington to use," he said, calling the neighborhood "the epicenter of America's drug crisis."
Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker, however, could turn Kensington around, Rodriguez told Fox News.
Parker, a Democrat and former city council member, told voters in November that she wants to bring in the National Guard to help clean up the neighborhood. She has also voted against safe drug consumption sites in the city.
The mayor-elect understands issues surrounding addiction, said Rodriguez, who met with Parker during her campaign. He hopes that pays off after her inauguration next month.
"The best thing that could happen to Kensington would be for the law enforcement and the higher-ups, the city officials, to not allow what they wouldn't want in their community," Rodriguez told Fox News. "They would never allow for somebody to shoot up or to smoke crack on the corner of their street."
"So why would they allow that to happen on somebody else's on the street?" he said.
The Philadelphia mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.