Preventing Overdose Deaths: How to Save and Uplift Lives
Photograph by Graham MacIndoe
We’ve all heard the statistics about rising overdose rates—which have claimed more than 93,000 lives in the U.S. last year. But we haven’t heard as much about the people working hard to prevent more fatal overdoses—providing those who are at risk with the services, support, and empathy they need.
This series highlights those dedicated community health workers, volunteers, and advocates, as well as people who have personal experiences with drug use and addiction. Their understanding and expertise often come from their own time on the street—navigating challenges like housing and food insecurity, the criminal justice system, physical and mental health issues, racism, discrimination, and stigma. As one activist described the work they do: “It’s saving lives, and it’s uplifting lives, too.”
This project is funded by the Overdose Prevention Program at Vital Strategies, a global health organization based in New York and a partner in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative.
Exhibition banner design by Luke Hayman and Ben Law at Pentagram. Thanks to the staff, volunteers, and participants at the Vital Strategies partner organizations who shared their stories for this project: Prevention Point Philadelphia, Project Safe, the Maternity Care Coalition, Salvation and Social Justice, the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, SWAN (Sex Workers and Allies Network), DESK (Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen), the Quinnipiack Valley Health District, MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength), Detroit Action, Ruth Ellis Center, Wellness Services, and the Red Project in Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
About The Artists
Graham MacIndoe is a photographer and Susan Stellin is a writer and researcher who earned a master’s in public health from Columbia University in 2019. They have collaborated on many projects combining interviews and photography—including exhibitions, events, and a memoir, “Chancers,” about MacIndoe’s addiction, incarceration, and recovery. Their series, American Exile, documenting the stories of families divided by deportation, debuted at Photoville in 2015 and was selected for the Head On photography festival in Sydney, Australia in 2016.
MacIndoe and Stellin both teach part-time at The New School and specialize in collaborative storytelling—working with participants to challenge stereotypes and broaden understandings about complex issues and stigmatized groups. In 2019, they co-curated the exhibition Beyond Addiction: Reframing Recovery at the Aronson Galleries in New York City, which then traveled to RIT’s City Art Space in Rochester, NY in 2020—including new work by local artists and participants in a workshop MacIndoe and Stellin taught.
Born in Scotland, MacIndoe earned an MFA from the Royal College of Art in London, moved to New York City, and has worked as a photographer since 1999—publishing and exhibiting his work widely, including solo exhibitions at the National Arts Club in New York City, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He recently published “Light Years,” a book of photographs of the Grammy award-winning band The National.
Stellin earned a B.A. in political science from Stanford University, moved to New York City in 1998, and was a regular contributor to the New York Times for more than 15 years. Her articles and essays have also appeared in New York Magazine, the Guardian, the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. As a research and communications consultant, she has worked on projects about ways to reduce overdose deaths, reform criminal justice practices, and decrease stigma that can be a barrier to seeking help. MacIndoe and Stellin live together in Brooklyn.
About The Organization
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years. Its goal is to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.