The Opioid Project

The Opioid Project:

Changing Perceptions through Art and Storytelling

Supporting those personally touched by the Opioid epidemic and creating community dialogue about stigma and the costs of the ongoing crisis

From 1999–2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving opioids, including prescription and illicit opioids, and the numbers continue to climb. Drug overdose deaths increased by 30% in 2020 compared to 2019, and more than 107,000 such deaths were reported in the United States between December 2020 to December 2021. Massachusetts has not escaped this tragedy.

Using art and audio storytelling as its foundation, The Opioid Project: Changing Perceptions through Art and Storytelling (The Opioid Project) is a response to this escalating epidemic. The Opioid Project is a collaboration between physician and Health Story Collaborative founder Annie Brewster and visual artist Nancy Marks.

Through community-based partnerships, The Opioid Project seeks to increase public awareness and to change how people perceive of and treat those touched by substance use disorder, including active users, those in recovery, first responders and those grieving the death of a loved one to overdose. Assumptions about substance users and their families are central to the stigma and loneliness experienced by all affected by the epidemic.

The Opioid Project communicates and breathes life into the complex social narrative of substance use and co-occurring mental health challenges, with the goal of decreasing stigma and promoting positive social change through community dialogue, education and advocacy.

The Opioid Project consists of 4-hour art and audio storytelling workshops where participants find a safe space to process their personal experiences through creating collages and sharing stories. These stories are audio recorded, and, together with the art, contextualize and bring to life the human costs of the epidemic. Finished work is hung in community multimedia art exhibitions where each art collage is paired with its recorded audio story.

Using personal phones, visitors can hear each participant speak about their experience while visually taking in the art in front of them. Exhibitions often include a community dialogue with the goal of increasing public understanding about stigma and supporting advocacy efforts around addiction and access to mental health services.

To date, more than 50 participants have benefitted from the direct experience of the workshops, having had the opportunity to create and express themselves in a supportive environment. On a community level, The Opioid Project has worked with partners in Boston, Braintree, Framingham, Fitchburg, Natick, Newton and Medford and has received support from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

The project has been displayed in hospitals, places of worship, libraries, schools, and town halls and has been used as a teaching tool in many different educational and cultural institutions, including the University of Massachusetts Medical Center library, Mclean Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Fitchburg Art Museum, Newton/Wellesley Hospital, Metro West Medical Center, Somerville NAVE Gallery, Hudson Town Hall, Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (East Boston Watershed), Boston City Hall and as part of a HarvardX online course.

Reviews of the work and The Opioid Project include:

posted by Santasmom

The personal accounts and the stories from the art project are so moving and so incredibly honest. I hope the contributors find healing in sharing realize just how much their words help others. Stories like these really drive home the fact that we are not talking about addicts, we are grieving sons, brothers, daughter, mothers, fathers with a terrible disease.

posted by lpimentel19

This is what we need more of. When we delve into the actual people and personalities in addiction, it really demonstrates how much addiction impacts the community. Statistics and data are beneficial and useful, as well. But there's something about knowing the faces, names, memories, that really brings it home. It reminds us that those with addiction are regular people with hobbies, talents, goals.

posted by RobertaThackerOliver

The thing that stood out to me is that most of the personal stories were of functioning users. People who had families, spouses, good jobs and well-paying jobs. Addiction doesn't just belong to one social or financial group of people, it is everywhere.

The Opioid Project’s Workshop Package includes:

  • 4-hour community-based art and audio-recording workshop for up to 10 participants 
  • traveling opioid/substance use disorder prevention and mental health education art/audio show to combat stigma and reach hundreds of people. This art and audio exhibition “in a box”, can be hung in schools, hospitals, town halls, colleges, local businesses, community institutions, etc. Art is ready to hang, has labels, and audio is matched to each piece.
  • Curator and/or educational presentation by co-founders Nancy Marks and Dr. Annie Brewster


Or The Opioid Project Community Exhibition

 As an additional option, The Opioid Project will bring its own traveling multi-media exhibition into your community and work with you on programming to encourage dialogue.

Sample Press/Publications

 Boston Globe 2018

 Sentinel & Enterprise 2018

 SmugMug 2018


Additional press:

Partner with us to bring The Opioid Project to your community!

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