‘This is a we thing, not a me thing’: Kensington Overdose Remembrance Walk honors those who have died from opioid use

According to the city Health Department, 1,413 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia last year.

Roz Pichardo led the march from SEPTA’s Huntingdon Station to McPherson Square on Aug. 29, 2023

Roz Pichardo led the march from SEPTA’s Huntingdon Station to McPherson Square on Aug. 29, 2023. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Philadelphians occupied one lane of Kensington Avenue as they marched to McPherson Square in Kensington on Tuesday to honor those who have lost their lives to drug addiction.

The crowd walked united in their efforts to reduce deaths and supply those suffering from addiction with aid and recovery methods. Upon reaching McPherson Square, the many voices turned to only one — with a person holding a megaphone reading off the more than 1,000 names of people who have died in Philadelphia in the past year due to drug addiction.

Roz Pichardo, a community advocate who does outreach work through Operation Save Our City, led the march. She said while hearts are heavy, the awareness brought to the issue unites many.

“I think it’s just so important that we recognize not only the folks that we’ve lost, but you know, celebrate people who are still here who are struggling with addiction,” Pichardo said. “So we’re just going to do everything we can to keep people alive.”

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According to the Philadelphia Health Department, 1,413 people died from drug overdoses in the city last year, the highest number ever recorded. In 2021, 1,276 people died from drug overdoses.

Britt Carpenter has survived five overdoses and now does recovery outreach work with the Philly Unknown Project. He said people can play a role in reducing the opioid death toll in Philadelphia.

“They’ve got to go out there and get trained on using Narcan,” Carpenter said. “They got to get out there and connect with organizations that are doing the work on the streets and come on out and help us volunteer out here. We need all the help we can get, we need all the hands we can get. This is a we thing, not a me thing.”

Nicole Bixler provides aid in Kensington through the organization Operation In My Backyard.

She said getting better doesn’t mean stopping drug use completely but taking steps towards not using, which can be aided through organizations helping out.

“It could mean somebody letting their guard down and trusting us enough to come back week after week to have their wounds cleaned and dressed to continue to get safe consumption supplies, to continue to take Narcan, and to open up to us,” she said.

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In June, Philadelphia selected 27 community and grassroots organizations to lead addiction prevention and treatment services in areas hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. That same month, police and federal law enforcement agencies seized $1.4 million in street drugs and 27 guns tied to Kensington’s open-air drug market.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the use of fentanyl laced with xylazine, an animal tranquilizer for veterinary use only, is the biggest public health threat since the start of the opioid crisis.

Between August 2021 and August 2022, 107,735 Americans died from “drug poisonings,” 66% of which were from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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