“I wish I could turn the clock back to B.D., or ‘before drugs.’ Before the opioid epidemic spread through our tribe like wildfire. Before my husband became addicted. Then two of my sons. Then my grandchild.”

Judith Surber, a mother, Hoopa Valley Tribe member, and now manager of a medical assisted treatment program, writes of her experience with the opioid epidemic on the reservation. Justin Maxon uses film photography to present snapshots of Surber’s life while centering her voice throughout.

“When I think about my sons, Roger and Cory, I picture them as I do all my children, as precious babies. When I look at my sons, I see all that I’ve known them to be and all of what could have been or could still be if it weren’t for OxyContin, then heroin, and now fentanyl.”

Native populations experience some of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“I had high hopes for my children and could not fathom what would happen to us when OxyContin came to the valley. The remoteness of this place has long protected us. But today the opioid crisis facing the nation has infiltrated our community, causing destruction and havoc along its path, leaving families like mine shattered.”

Surber gives a firsthand perspective of a mother fighting to keep her family together, while Maxon’s photographs are candid yet compassionate. Together, their written and visual storytelling weave a personal narrative of struggle, fear, and pain, but most of all, of unconditional love.

This story was originally published in partnership with The New York Times in November 2023.

Artist Bios

  • Justin Maxon

    Justin Maxon is a photographer, writer, and filmmaker. He was born and raised in Northern California, where he grew up part-time on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. As a visual storyteller, educator, and socially engaged artist, he collaborates with communities, making design and ideation decisions with participants. His work seeks to challenge authoritative systems of knowledge through repositioning members of society within the social hierarchy and understanding his own positionality. His work has received numerous awards and has appeared in publications including TIME, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones, and The New York Times.

  • Judith Surber

    Judith Surber is a mother, grandmother, and tribal member of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Humboldt County, Northern California. Surber has worked for the Hoopa Valley Tribe for the past 30 years in many different capacities, including most recently as the manager for the Medication Assisted Treatment program at K’ima:w Medical Center, the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s health program. Surber is the author of Reservation High, a fiction book about Native life on the reservation, substance use, and recovery. Her second book, The Broken Ones, is a fiction work that explores Native life and trauma.


  • The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

    The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

    The Pulitzer Center’s mission is to champion the power of stories to make complex issues relevant and inspire action. Founded in 2006, the Center is an essential source of support for enterprise reporting in the United States and globally. The thousands of journalists and educators in our networks span more than 80 countries, and our work reaches tens of millions of people each year through our news-media partners. The journalism we support covers the world’s biggest challenges today, from the environment and global health to human rights and artificial intelligence.

Decolonizing Care

 coming soon

Featuring: Justin Maxon Judith Surber

Curated by: Daniel Vasta Katherine Jossi Sarah Swan Grace Jensen

Presented by: The Pulitzer Center
  • The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting


ON VIEW AT: Truss Banner 40

View Location Details Brooklyn Bridge Park – Emily Warren Roebling Plaza

1 Water St
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Written by Judith Surber. Photographed by Justin Maxon.

This website was made possible thanks to the generous support and partnership of Photowings