A multimedia producer and journalism instructor invites the public to look at drug addiction in a different light.
“More than anything, I wanted to highlight the fact that drug users are human beings,” said Aaron Goodman, a documentary maker and journalism and communications studies instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). “Their drug use doesn’t define who they are, even though that’s how heroin users have been mostly depicted by photographers for decades.”
Communities across North America are struggling to respond to a growing heroin epidemic. An estimated 60,000 to 90,000 people are affected by opioid addiction in Canada. Goodman believes photographers have a crucial role to play in telling the story. For over a year, he, documented the lives of three long-term and vulnerable heroin users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The result is a compelling and insightful multimedia exhibit, Outcasts: Humanizing heroin users through documentary photography and photo-elicitation, on display at KPU’s Surrey campus from Nov. 5 to Dec. 9, 2016.
The project focuses on Marie, Cheryl and Johnny, who have all been addicted to heroin for decades and haven’t sufficiently responded to methadone and other treatment. They are among more than 140 long-term drug users who receive pharmacological heroin as part of a program run by Providence Health Care. Previously, they took part in a clinical trial from 2011 to late 2015 known as the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME).
Heroin-assisted treatment has long been offered as part of national health programs across Europe, but this is the first time it has been made available in Canada. Studies show that medically-supervised heroin has helped long-term heroin users improve their health, reduce their illicit drug use and engagement in criminal behaviour, and is cost-saving.
As policy makers and the members of the public clashed over the program, Goodman saw an opportunity to amplify the voices of the heroin users themselves through multimedia storytelling.
The project pairs images of the three participants with excerpts of audio interviews that Goodman conducted with them. The result is a rare and intimate window into the experiences of three unique individuals that helps to humanize heroin addiction.
Outcasts will be on display in the KPU Coast Capital Savings Library, located at 12666 72 Ave. in Surrey from Nov. 5 to Dec. 9, 2016. It is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photo: Aaron Goodman