Lens Project/ Proyecto Lentes

In 2014, seven courageous individuals who have been struggling with heroin addiction approached our team of researchers from FIU, and they requested our assistance. They wanted to be visible. They explained that people ignore them, stigmatize them, think of them as inhuman, and that they felt invisible. They were not deemed worthy citizens. They were ready to show their faces. They wanted to do something.

These individuals are surviving under conditions that contribute to their addiction, rather than alleviate it. Dominican law 5088 is among the most restrictive drug laws in the Caribbean, and mandates a hard-criminal justice response to drug use, filling Dominican jails with small-scale users, most of them poor. Particularly damning for heroin users, the law makes it illegal to possess opiate replacement therapies, such as methadone. These ORTs are known scientifically the world over to allow addicts to abstain from using opiates like heroin while they undergo drug rehabilitation. Because the Dominican law prohibits these treatments, many users are relegated to a life of addiction on the street, and to injecting themselves with regular, small doses of highly impure heroin that is sold on the street for about a dollar a hit. The heroin users with whom we have worked refer to these small doses as “la curita,” the little cure, because it temporarily staves off the painful symptoms of withdrawal. Their lives are consumed with finding the next curita. Making matters worse, the police are extremely abusive toward suspected drug users, and offer no source of support or protection.

The exhibit is the result of our collaboration with these incredible people, who chose to tell their stories in pictures. Photo voice is a method that produces images and associated captions that aim to change hearts and minds. It is intended to educate, to move, and to provoke critical thinking. These pictures are already in a traveling exhibit in the Dominican Republic, and since September 2016 we have begun the journey here in the US.

These stories are important for the US and specifically for us in Miami. We have a heroin epidemic that is similarly devastating our state and many sectors of our country.

Florida has a thriving heroin epidemic, and it is connected to regional changes in production and consumption that link Miami to Latin America and the Caribbean. We have more in common with our Dominican brothers and sisters than may first be evident.

As we continue to share these stories through galleries, we are working on a shoe-string budget. Part of our commitment to the artists who produced these images is to work to support them in continuing to tell their stories, to conduct activities in Santo Domingo and here in the US using these images.

This vision takes support, and so we have set up a foundation to receive donations through our foundation account. Please visit ignite.fiu.edu/lensproject

• Dr. Mark Padilla, Professor of Anthropology, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies & Principal Investigator, Syndemics Project, Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, FIU

• Dr. Armando Matiz, Project Director, Syndemics Project, Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, FIU