The opioid crisis exposed in photos from a hard-hit neighborhood

Photographer David Guttenfelder has documented horrors around the world, but he was shocked by what he saw on a Philadelphia street.

Fernando Irizarry’s addiction began with pain medications he took after an accident. He invited me to observe his life on Kensington Avenue, and I spent two days with him. Unable to find a usable vein in his arm, bruised from repeated injections, he asked an acquaintance to inject a slurry of discarded drugs into his neck. On the street, addicts often look out for each other, administering narcotics but also saving lives with Narcan, an overdose-reversal nasal spray.

"One thing you should know,” one man advised me. “No one on this street imagined they would end up like this. Every person here thought they had it under control.” That street could be anywhere in addicted America. This one is Kensington Avenue, a bleak stretch that runs beneath the elevated tracks in Philadelphia. I went there to witness the opioid crisis, to understand how people seeking relief from pain had ended up on the street.

I’ve seen extreme misery in wars and natural disasters, but I was stunned by what I found in my own country. The rules of society seemed to have vanished. What remained was a raw struggle for one thing: the rush of relief from pain. (Read how empathy and new treatments come together to fight pain.)

In Philadelphia 1,116 people died from a drug overdose in 2018, more than twice the number five years earlier, and eight out of 10 of those deaths involved opioids.

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