Multimedia series challenges how we view drug users

Tue, Mar 22, 2016

Vancouver, B.C. – As communities across North America respond to skyrocketing rates of heroin use, documentary photographers and photojournalists have an important role to play in telling the story.

The New York Times has called the soaring use of heroin an “epidemic,” and in Canada, as many as 90,000 people are affected by opioid addiction, according to the University of British Columbia.

Last year, data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that heroin use in the U.S. increased 63 per cent between 2002 and 2013. The CDC has also found that people who are addicted to opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Opana are 40 times more likely than others to abuse heroin, and in Canada, opioid prescriptions jumped 18.6 per cent from 2012 to 2014.

For over a year, documentary producer and communication studies scholar Aaron Goodman chronicled the lives of three long-term heroin users as they reconnected with family, shopped for groceries, and overcame serious health and economic challenges, all while managing their addictions through North America’s first heroin-assisted treatment program run by Providence Health Care in Vancouver. The science-based treatment has been offered for years by national health systems in the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

When the Canadian government ended Providence Health Care physicians' ability to prescribe heroin-assisted treatment to some of Vancouver’s most chronic and vulnerable drug users, Goodman began a photo documentary to amplify the voices of the program’s participants.

“For decades, documentary photographers and photojournalists have represented heroin users as exotic, primitive and dangerous to society,” said Goodman, a journalism and communication studies instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). “I wanted to create more balanced images of some of the most marginalized and disenfranchised people in our society.”

Goodman wanted to explore if he could provide viewers with greater context about the individual drug users’ lives and help generate public empathy toward them. Goodman paired his images with excerpts from interviews he conducted with the participants, and the result is a rare and intimate insight into the experiences, including the traumas, that the drug users have faced.

Goodman’s past work has focused on social and humanitarian issues that are under-reported or misrepresented in mass media, and increasing heroin use is no exception.

The controversy around heroin-assisted treatment has reached the highest court in British Columbia. Through his photos, Goodman hopes viewers can come to their own conclusions about the effects heroin-assisted treatment has on users and communities.

Goodman’s three-part multimedia series is available for publishing. The photos and interviews with Cheryl, Johnny and Marie can be viewed online on Medium/Vantage and at Goodman is also available for media interviews to discuss the project.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has served the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 200,000 learners. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs in business, liberal arts, design, health, science and horticulture, trades and technology, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 120 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates, citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at    

photo of Aaron Goodman is available on Flickr.

Media contact:
Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist
t: 604.599.2883
c: 604.364.1288

For more KPU news: