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  • Financial Times

Will overdose deaths force an end to the US ‘war on drugs’?

By Jamie Smyth in Philadelphia, Caitlin Gilbert in New York and Christine Murray in Mexico City

JANUARY 3, 2022

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Rosalind Pichardo didn’t just get her nickname “Mama Sunshine” because of her cheery disposition. For several hundred drug users in Kensington, a rundown neighbourhood in Philadelphia, she has been their lifeline: bringing each of them back from the edge of death after they overdosed. “I revived a guy who OD’ed on the street this morning on my way to work,” says Pichardo, speaking matter of factly outside her workplace — Prevention Point — one of the largest needle exchange sites in the US. “Unfortunately, overdoses happen everyday in this neighbourhood.” It is not just Philadelphia. On average more than 270 people — the equivalent of 10 or 12 high school classes — overdosed and died in the US every day in the year to April 2021. This added up to a new record annual toll of more than 100,000 lives in a country caught in the grip of an addiction crisis. Almost two-thirds of those deaths were caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which can be 50 times as potent as heroin and has recently displaced other legally prescribed painkillers as the biggest driver of fatal overdoses.

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