The numbers are chilling: 1,217 people in Philadelphia died following a drug overdose last year, according to the Department of Public Health. These figures have steadily increased over the past decade – they’re up 34% from just 2016 – leading to what is currently being described as an epidemic.
While it might be easy for those who aren’t dependent on opioids to ignore this crisis, users don’t exist in a vacuum. They are our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors and their plight is very much intertwined with ours. The arts and music scenes have historically been heavily affected by drug and alcohol abuse. This is also true today in Philadelphia, with numerous musicians and artists dying after overdoses just in the past couple years.
Because of stigma surrounding drug use, the conversation around how to prevent these tragedies is oftentimes muted. Sarah Kim is trying to change that. The artist and journalist has helped put together an event tonight at the Vox Populi art gallery that is both panel discussion and training for the overdose-reversal drug Narcan, as well as a concert featuring electronic acts Hero/Victim and Orion Sun.
Money raised at the door will go towards the local harm reduction organizations Project SAFE and Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative (POPI).
“Since my original inspiration for organizing the event were the losses in the underground arts and music community,” Kim told The Key, “I wanted to involve performers from within these scenes in contrast to how most art institutions often shun difficult social and political issues until it becomes au courant to pay attention.”
The panel is made up of four activists involved in harm reduction and advocacy: Tino Fuentes, Aisha Mohammed, Paul Cherashore, and Nora Wilson. Mohammed is part of Project SAFE, a long-standing organization whose mission is to, “promote human rights-based public health among women working in the sex and drug trades on the street in Philadelphia,” according to their website. Cherashore is the founder of the other beneficiary, Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative, and a veteran activist. Kim told The Key that, “Besides giving the tools to recognize and address overdose situations, I want this event to facilitate greater conversation and understanding of the opioid crises and harm prevention, which is constantly stigmatized along race, gender, and class issues.”
Fuentes has been involved in many different groups over the past more than 15 years, most recently as Director of Syringe Exchange Programs and Director of Naloxone Programs at Saint Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction. He has been working to promote safe injection sites, legally-sanctioned facilities where intravenous drug users can go to use in a medically-supervised environment; a mock-up of one will be set up at the event. Fuentes and Wilson will lead a training on how to administer Narcan – the brand name for the overdose-reversal medication naloxone – and a limited number of kits will be available for attendees to take home. Wilson has led similar trainings around the city including one at Temple University, where she is a printmaking student at Tyler. She has also authored a zine on how to use Narcan, copies of which will be at the event.
The training and discussion will be bookended by music provided by Orion Sun and Hero/Victim. Kim told The Key that she wanted to have, “performances to heal and uplift” those attending an event that’s “centered on such an emotionally dire topic.” According to her, “People often overlook art’s ability to unite people and inspire social action, yet I believe art is intrinsically communal and well as cathartic.” That catharsis might come in the form of Orion Sun. The multi-instrumentalist was recently profiled in The Key, where she described her throwback R&B sound as “vulnerable” and “meditative.” The other performer, West Philadelphia’s Hero/Victim, makes ambient, minimal electronic music that he characterizes as, “A sonic attempt at translating unanswered and unheard emotions.”
The artist behind the project, Dominic Martin, runs a record label called Vague Audio Tapes that released a compilation last year benefitting Project SAFE. Artists on the album included Moor Mother, Chaperone, Leisure Muffin, and Westov Temple. More information about that can be found on the label’s Bandcamp, and more information on the event can be found at Facebook.
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