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NIDA-Funded Researcher Mixes Ethnography With Art Installation

As part of his research into preventing HIV and hepatitis C infections among injection drug users, Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, Ph.D., National Development and Research Institutes, noticed that drug dealers in New York were creating heroin brands by labeling the glassine envelopes in which they distributed the drug. Working with the Social Art Collective in New York City, Dr. Mateu-Gelabert and his colleagues interviewed drug dealers and users, as well as an artist who designs the brand images, while collecting the empty envelopes to create an art project that the New York Times said “is meant to examine the intersection of advertising and addiction and provoke questions about how society addresses dependence and disease.” In addition to 150 decorated envelopes collected from city streets, the exhibit includes 12 large-scale prints of the brand designs, 1,800 empty envelopes (representing a heavy heroin user’s annual consumption), and information cards describing injection drug use risks. Proceeds from the exhibit will be shared with a local needle-exchange program.

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