The Opioid Diaries: James Nachtwey's Talk at Newseum in Nation's Capital

Article and film photography by Thien Nguyen

Photojournalist and war photographer, James Nachtwey and "TIME’s Paul Moakley spent months on the streets of Boston and San Francisco, on patrol with first responders in Ohio, New Mexico, and West Virginia, inside jail cells in Kentucky, funerals in New Hampshire and prayer meetings in Massachusetts", documenting the Opioid Crisis. His completed work, "The Opioid Diaries" was one of the rawest and honest stories I've heard in a long time. His powerful images captured people at their worst and the effects it has on those around them, from the first responders to their family members and friends. At the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Nachtwey discussed his experience and thoughts on the project. During his talk, you could hear the pain and empathy in his voice for the victims of this horrible addiction. 

As a healthcare professional who specializes in policy/procedures to combat the Opioid Crisis, this topic hits close to home and tugs at my heartstrings. I spend my days working on how to better serve this population. At this time the most talked about solutions are medication-assisted treatment, prescription drug monitoring programs, expanding addiction clinics and naloxone (a drug that rapidly reverses opioid overdose), clean needle exchange programs, and others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "The current epidemic of drug overdoses began in the 1990s, driven by increasing deaths from prescription opioids that paralleled a dramatic increase in the prescribing of such drugs for chronic pain... A record number of drug overdose deaths occurred in 2015: 52,404. While a death may involve more than one drug, prescription or illicit opioids were involved in 63.1% of these deaths. Among opioid-involved deaths, the most common category was heroin (12,989 deaths), followed by prescription opioids that were natural or semi-synthetic (12,727 deaths)." 

The CDC statistics are alarming and disheartening. The Opioid Crisis is more than a drug problem, it's a human problem. Effective solutions depend on how we choose to view the problem and the people it affects. Seeing the human face behind the Opioid Crisis as portrayed through Nachtwey's images, will allow us to develop better solutions and hopefully reduce the rate of deaths by overdoses.  

TIME Magazine, Nachtwey's "The Opioid Diaries

Camera: Contax N1 + Carl Zeiss 50mm Lens | Film stock: Kodak Portra 800 | Dev+Scan: The FIND Lab