Students document heroin in Kensington

Two SMC students were awarded a College Emmy for their project.

Luke Proctor recieved a College Emmy for his work documenting drug addiction in Kensington.  Allan Barnes | TTN
Luke Proctor recieved a College Emmy for his work documenting drug addiction in Kensington. Allan Barnes | TTN

Before this semester, the only award Luke Proctor received was “Most Improved” title in peewee football when he was eight years old.

Proctor, a senior media studies and production major, ended the drought on Sept. 20, when he and Tony Liberto, a 2014 journalism graduate, received a College Production Award from Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

The duo received the honor in public affairs/community service.

“It was the greatest day of my life,” Liberto said.

Inspired by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a mixed drug overdose including heroin in February, the duo set out to cover the problem of heroin in Philadelphia.

According to a 2013 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin was detected in 57.7 percent of alcohol and drug related deaths.

Done for Crossroads on TUTV, Proctor first saw the project as an opportunity to produce a longform piece similar to work produced by VICE News, he said.

Proctor said that Francesca Viola, an assistant professor of journalism at Temple, helped the idea along.

“[Viola] kind of pushed the idea to do the project on just the heroin scourge in this area,” Proctor said.

The Crossroads package includes interviews and video footage of heroin addicts, substance abuse experts at Temple and medical professionals.

The package largely focused on Kensington because of the assistance given to Proctor and Liberto by Victory Outreach, a program that offers help to addicts through religion.

“It’s remarkable to me to see the progression of the state of opiate use and abuse in medicine, so not only heroin, but opiates in general,” said Dr. Chris Blazes, an emergency room physician at Abington Hospital, in the video.

Blazes said that he sees between five and 10 opiate addicted patients a day in the ER.

Many heroin addicts begin by taking prescription painkillers, like Percocet, before turning to heroin – a cheaper, and sometimes more powerful, alternative.

“By the time I was 19, 20, I was taking 10 Percocet 10 mg every day,”  Justin Talbott, a member of Victory Outreach, said in the video.

“I tried one bag [of heroin] – wow, that bag did what three pills did and it was only $10,” Talbott added.

Proctor and Liberto said they changed views of heroin addiction after the project.

“A lot of people … see people and just label them as a junkie,” Proctor said. “After doing the project, I really saw it as people who have different life paths than people like you and me.”

“Now I see them as more patients than criminals, as people who are sick, [rather than] people who are hostile, criminal people that I should be afraid of,” he added.

The package shows Proctor and Liberto going under the B Street bridge in Kenzington where many addicts are “getting out of the gate,” or using for the first time that day.

 “You really don’t know what this does to people until you’re in an arm’s length of them,” Liberto said. “You think you have a clue and then you see these people and the struggle they go through.”

 Heroin is a pervasive drug – it is not contained to one neighborhood or even the city of Philadelphia. District attorneys and other officials say that heroin is fast becoming an epidemic in the suburbs as well.

 The video package calls heroin the “scourge.”

 “It’s very true to its name,” Liberto said.

 “You’re a slave. It’s the same routine every day,” Darryl Woods, a member of Victory Outreach said.

 Kensington is widely considered to be the area of Philadelphia in which heroin is most pervasive. Proctor said that he saw dealers on every corner of every block in the neighborhood.

 Drug deals are made in the open and addicts get high in the alleys. Kensington has garnered a reputation as an open-air drug market where the police have little influence or control.

 Even before the TUTV package won the Mid-Atlantic Emmy award, Liberto knew that he and Proctor were working on something that had huge potential.

 “From day one, we said, ‘We’re going to put together something special and we’re going to make a run at this,’” Liberto said.

 The duo learned about its nomination in August. Proctor was surprised, but felt like he and Liberto had a shot.

 “There were like eight different Temple nominations and the first seven Temple nominations got announced and no one won and we were the last group to get presented … it seemed like it was all on our shoulders,” Proctor said.

 “It totally changed the outlook on my career now,” he added of winning, mentioning an interview that he had with VICE News.

 Liberto compared the duo’s victory to a hockey team winning the Stanley Cup.

 “It was jubilation. It was the highest point you could possibly experience,” he said.

 The pair has an altered view of drug addiction and how to help addicts after the project.

 “You don’t have to be addicted to heroin, or be once addicted to these drug, to want to go down there and try to help them,” Proctor said.

 Stuff like this is what makes you want to keep doing hardcore stuff like this,” Liberto said.

 The pair played to each other’s strengths and Liberto hopes to be able to do it again sometime.

 “I wouldn’t want to do another project like this with anyone else,” said Liberto of Proctor. “To work with Luke again would be incredible.”

Vince Bellino can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations, Luke! I handle media relations for Abington Hospital. Would love to see a copy of the film in which one of our Emergency Room physicians was interviewed. Hoping Luke can reach out to me. Thank you!

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