Using Art to Decrease the Stigma of Addiction
Over 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from drug addiction, but only 2.5 million are currently receiving any type of treatment. That disconnect is caused by stigma—it keeps people from seeking treatment, shackles those attempting recovery, and constrains our efforts as a society to fund prevention and treatment.
To turn judgment into empathy, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has traveled over 57,000 miles and interviewed hundreds of people suffering or recovering from drug addiction. Those interviews form the core of The Empty Fix Project, a visual art series created to challenge our response to drug addiction.
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She began her project while serving as a resident artist at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound. There, she began making trips to surrounding towns and cities. She visited the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Bremerton, interviewed people suffering addiction at the REACH program in Seattle, and traveled to the Tribal Wellness Center of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, where a young woman said something that crystalized her understanding of drug addiction. “Suzanne,” she said, “It was my fault. I chose to first use that drug, but pretty soon after I used it, it began using me.” And with that, Suzanne began a year of trips crisscrossing the nation to let people suffering from addiction teach her, so that she could use her art to help change our attitudes towards the victims of addiction.