The Bronx’s Quiet, Brutal War With Opioids

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Adriana Pericchi sat in the blue tent, training passers-by how to administer naloxone to someone suffering an overdose. Slipping back and forth between conversational Spanish and English with a man seeking naloxone and fentanyl test strips, she moved methodically step-by-step, beginning with an overview of the physical symptoms of overdose: blue nails or lips, skin discoloration and shallow breaths. She jammed naloxone into a test dummy’s nose before playacting chest compressions and rescue breathing.

“First the breathing stops, then the brain, then the heart,” Ms. Pericchi reminded the man, a heroin user, who nodded along.

Later, sitting in a nearby McDonald’s, Ms. Pericchi opened up about the emotional toll felt by her colleagues at Washington Heights Corner Project and other organizations in the field.

“A lot of us are doing our best, but it’s just not enough, it’s not enough,” she said. “You’re mourning for one particular person who you knew and loved. And really quickly that avalanches into mourning for the state of the city, the state, the country.”

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Mike Bailey, an outreach worker, held up a needle discovered in a Bronx park. It’s bent, meaning that whoever used it may have been infected with a disease and didn’t want anyone else to use it, he said.

Mr. Jones said the Bronx needs more resources to combat heroin deaths, and blamed racial politics for insufficient resources. He said policies from the War on Drugs have also made community members distrustful of the police. Speaking softly and slowly, he disclosed that he sold drugs during the 1980s to support his crack habit, eventually serving more than two years in prison.

Now, decades later, as he devotes himself to helping drug users who need help, Mr. Jones sees a continued double standard for Bronx residents, who are stripped of compassion and dignity amid an epidemic that has engendered sympathy and panic in other communities.

From his vantage point, the attitude toward the opioid deaths today is still influenced by racialized attitudes about the crack and heroin epidemics before.

“It’s just color. It’s like we’re part of a third-world country because we’re not part of the so-called privileged people,” Mr. Jones said. “I could be wrong, but I’m saying that it’s because of our color. It’s a big issue.”

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