“heroin-assisted treatment, a science-based, compassionate approach”


A photo-essay (trigger warning) seeks to document heroin-assisted “treatment” (my quotes) and humanize heroin addiction.

The author explains his intent:

Throughout the project, I’d spoken with the subjects about the purpose of the photo essay – to challenge the stereotypes of drug genre photography and to help spread awareness about heroin-assisted treatment.

He also describes the reality of what he witnessed:

I often explained to them that their photos would likely be published on the Internet – that police, future employers and others could learn they are heroin users. Despite the risks, the three subjects reiterated that they wanted to take part in the project because they, too, wanted to tell others about heroin-assisted treatment.

I’d been told that after enrolling in the heroin-assisted treatment study, some participants had reconnected with family members, found stable housing and gotten jobs. I hoped that I’d be able to take photos of Marie, Cheryl and Johnny in these types of settings.

However, I quickly learned that this wouldn’t be easy. Two of the three subjects didn’t engage in many other activities beyond self-injecting at the Crosstown clinic three times a day. Outside the clinic, much of their time was spent acquiring and using drugs.

This meant the moments I was able to capture ended up being far less varied than I’d anticipated.

Still, there were revealing moments, like when I managed to photograph Marie traveled across the city by bus to try to find her mother. It was Thanksgiving and she hadn’t seen her mother in over two years. I thought these particular photos might help the viewer understand Marie in a new way: even if people weren’t able to fully understand the depth of Marie’s suffering or the roots of her addiction, everyone knows what it’s like to want to spend the holidays with loved ones.

The greatest challenge I faced was determining how to document two of the subjects’ ongoing drug use outside of the heroin-assisted treatment study. I simply couldn’t ignore it because it was a major part of their day-to-day lives.

The images are pretty rough and heartbreaking, but he suggests he avoided anything sensational.

When the time came to choose the final photographs, I deliberately left out images that I suspected could be viewed as the most sensational or degrading.

This is described as last resort “treatment”. One can’t help but wonder what kind of care these people have been provided. Did they ever get compassionate, comprehensive, high quality treatment of adequate duration and intensity? Were they ever helped by people who believe in their capacity to recover? Were they ever exposed to a community of people who have recovered and enjoying full, satisfying lives?

Is this treatment? Or, palliative care for a treatable condition?