Disturbing video of an emaciated young woman covered in sores on the streets of Philadelphia has been described as a heartbreaking view of the “American tragedy”.
The homeless addict, Sandi, spoke to AML Films in the city’s notorious Kensington neighbourhood, an open-air drug market that has become ground zero in the unprecedented crisis gripping the nation.
In a depressing clip that has gone viral online, the young woman — who has a gaping injection wound on her shoulder — performs a “parody” of the Destiny’s Child song Bootylicious to the camera.
“I don’t think you’re ready for this headache, I don’t think you’re ready for this headache, I don’t think you’re ready for this ‘cos my high is too crackalicious for you babe,” she sings.
In recent months, horrific footage has emerged from Kensington of streets packed with drug users shambling around, many passed out or slumped over in a stupor, often seen openly shooting up or dealing in public.
New data from the US Centers for Disease Control show more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses last year, largely driven by the fentanyl crisis, which has turned parts of cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Baltimore into wastelands resembling a zombie apocalypse.
In March, US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described the record number of Americans dying from fentanyl overdoses — more than 70,000 in 2021 — as the “single greatest challenge we face as a country”.
Last year, the CDC reported that life expectancy in the US saw the sharpest decline in more than a century — to 76.1 years, down 2.8 years from its peak in 2014 — driven partly by opioid overdoses.
Even as authorities struggle to get a handle on the epidemic, they must now contend with a horror flesh-eating “zombie” drug known as “tranq” — xylazine, a powerful horse tranquilliser that is increasingly being mixed with fentanyl and heroin to enhance the effects.
The drug is so potent the White House recently declared it an “emerging threat”.
Originally seen in Philadelphia and then San Francisco and Los Angeles, there are now reports of it appearing in New York where it could be in 25 per cent of the narcotic supply.
“Xylazine has hit Philadelphia particularly hard, causing increased overdose deaths as well as severe wounds that can lead to sepsis and amputation,” the Philadelphia Department of Health and the Board of Health said in a joint statement in April.
“As a result, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has been working closely with partners across the city to address this new aspect of the drug overdose epidemic.”
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, criminal groups ship chemicals from China to Mexico where they are used to produce fentanyl that is smuggled across the US border.
A recent analysis by The Washington Post found fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49.
The drug, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is mostly used medically for anaesthesia and as an analgesic for severe pain and terminal illness, but since 2015 Mexican cartels have been flooding the pills across the border.
With the baby-blue pills selling for as little as $US5 each, fentanyl poses an exceptionally high overdose risk to humans.
According to a report prepared by the Council on Foreign Relations, National Center for Health Statistics show more than 1500 Americans per week die from taking some sort of opioid.
“Analysts say the opioid problem started with the overprescription of legal pain medications, but it has intensified in recent years due to influxes of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, supplied by foreign drug cartels,” CFR said.
“The crisis has reached such a scale that it has become a significant drag on the economy and a threat to national security.”
Last year, the Biden administration released its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, which aims for a 13 per cent reduction in overdose deaths.
“The plan prioritises expanding access to treatment and harm-reduction interventions, including the use of naloxone, which is used to reverse overdoses, and drug test strips,” CFR noted. “It also aims to curb drug trafficking.”
The video of Sandi was shared on Reddit with the title “American Tragedy”.
“That hole in the arm looks so painful (or was painful at one point). Poor girl,” one person wrote.
Another noted she appeared to also be using her neck vein. “Poor gal has one foot out the door already,” they said.
A third wrote, “If you watch interviews with people down in Kensington, shooting dope in their neck is beyond common. The xylazine in the dope is a vasoconstrictor and will make the skin start to rot away. If you miss a vein it’s pretty fast, but even addicts who don’t use needles eventually develop sores in random spots in their body. There’s ‘professional hitters’ that the homeless will pay to hit them in their neck for them because all their other easily accessible veins have collapsed.”
In a longer interview with AML Films, a YouTube channel which shares the life stories of homeless drug addicts around the city, Sandi revealed she had managed to cut down on her drug intake.
“Quitting that last bag a day is so hard,” she said.
“It really sucks. I think I’m really close to being able to just get through it though. But I want to be not on the street I guess. Not in rehab but not on the street either. I want to find an income and start sending money to my kids, because I miss them a whole lot. Even if I can’t physically parent them I want to still parent them however I can.”
Social media users expressed hope that she could turn her life around.
“Sandi you have lowered your daily intake drastically. I’m so proud of you! You can recover. You can do this. Don’t give up. Keep moving forward slowly,” one wrote.
“Her eyes are absolutely beautiful — the shine is not gone yet. I really, really hope someone who loves her sees this and makes an effort to help her and (best case scenario) she takes the help,” another added.
— with NY Post