Akia Feggans is an engaging speaker, as she’s dually candid about and concerned for the population she serves at Philadelphia FIGHT as the Director of Behavioral Health at the Diana Baldwin Clinic. FIGHT is a comprehensive collective of community health centers in the city. Feggans’ colleague Karen Shible is a therapist at TREE, an intensive outpatient program. The work these women do is incredibly important and very challenging, as Feggans describes how challenging if can prove to create change in an older population fighting substance abuse disorders and often coming from the streets without proper housing.

Feggans candidly and accurately discussed how the opioid epidemic is gaining steam and resources given the effect on middle and upper class white communities, while the “Badlands” area around Kensington and Frankford have long been hotbeds for heroin—said to be the most potent in the country.

Shible explained this area is home to the largest open air drug market in the country (“Hamtersdam” if you will). Feggans and Shible serve the population from this area as well as all over the city from their headquarters on 12th and Locust, where FIGHT, a federally funded primary care model with a focus on HIV treatment and care for low income members of the community. Philly, as we learn, has an HIV infection rate five times that of the national average, and the population of high-risk individuals FIGHT serves.

A riveting portion of Feggans’ discussion was how a brain on serious drugs is essentially put on pause, and someone who has done drugs for 20 years will prove stunted emotionally and skills-wise given this long journey of addiction and it’s damaging effects.  The jobs of therapists like Scheibel is to work closely with patients to help mature the brains to reach their actual age.

“Our goal is for people to be clean, and be productive and part of their community again,” said Akia. FIGHT wants to inform and empower clients to prove proactive about their recovery and health care.

Getting patients clean is relatively easy, Feggans explained, but getting her clients to understand who they are and what they want to get out of life besides drugs. That motivation and self-awareness and value will drive a far more successful recovery journey.

As Shible said, “Success is measured in the person’s efforts and the quality of life that they have.”