“64,000” contextualizes the unprecedented human toll of those lost to the overdose crisis.
64,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. That number eclipses the highest previous year by more than 20%, accounting for more than 175 deaths each day. To understand the magnitude of this number, it exceeds deaths attributed to firearms and car accidents —combined. Sadly, like the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the federal government’s best plan has been to return to a strict crime-and-punishment model for a crisis that is demonstrably a matter of public health. Making matters worse, the president has used his public profile to suggest that drug dealers face the death penalty and that people who use drugs suffer from moral failings that can only be restored from inside of prison walls.
These sentiments are woefully misgiven. While the United States has only 5% of the global population, shamefully it boasts 25% of the world’s prisoners. A majority of those currently incarcerated are serving time for drug offenses.
The lessons of America’s bulging prisons is obvious: although drugs have been increasingly criminalized in recent decades, criminalization has had no significant impact on the measures of a healthy society. People continue to use drugs at a relatively consistent rate. Drugs continue to be readily available to people who use drugs, including inside of American prisons. HIV and viral hepatitis continue to wreak havoc on communities that do not have access to comprehensive harm reduction services. And overdoses continue to skyrocket.
In order to shine a light on the epidemic we are currently facing, Luceo will draw from its longstanding work and expertise in the fields of public health and drug policy to build a series of agamographs that show the survivors of the overdose crisis transitioning into those who have died. Viewed from the front of the container, a series of portraits will stare back at the viewer representing those who remain. As the viewer moves to the back of the container, the images will morph into family photographs of those who have died.
The agamographs will be paired with contemporaneous quotes from politicians and organizers, emphasizing the intent of some of the nation’s most insidious and harmful drug policies. These will appear on the wall, painted around each diorama. For example, the Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ diorama will be paired with a quote from Nixon’s former White House Counsel and Domestic Affairs Advisor, John Erlichman: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Agamographs will cover either side of the container. We will project a short documentary at the far end of the container, a compilation of interviews which we have conducted with many of the nation’s leading scholars and advocates for drug policy reform and improved public health. These include the former Mayor of Baltimore who advocated for full drug decriminalization in the 1980s (The Wire’s Hamsterdam is loosely based on his work), formerly incarcerated individuals, harm reduction workers, lawyers, public health officials, think tank executives, and people who use drugs. The container will be painted black, the projection will be backlit, and each diorama will be individually lit, appearing in chronological order from left-to-right.