In June 2018, an 800-pound, 4-foot-high, 10-foot-long aluminum spoon appeared in front of the headquarters of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Connectut, to protest one of the companies seen as responsible for the opioid crisis.
“The spoon has always been an albatross for my family It’s kind of an emotional symbol, a dark symbol for me,” Domenic Esposito, a sculptor based in Westwood, Massachusetts, told reporters as the protest gained national attention. “This is just a movement for accountability. Percocet and OxyContin are still all over the streets. Nothing’s changed. People are still dying. … It’s also a calling for the federal government to step in and do something.”
Esposito had staged the protest of the opioid manufacturer with the help of Stamford gallery owner Fernando Alvarez, who was arrested that day and charged of obstructing free passage. “A city worker removed the spoon with a payloader and it was hauled to a police evidence holding area,” USA Today reported.
The Cambridge Public Library at 449 Broadway is hosting a display of a version of his Opiod Spoon sculpture through Sept. 30. At a Sept. 16 reception there, Esposito said that he had began the project a year and a half ago in honor of his brother and his struggles, as “the opioid crisis came knocking at my family’s door.” (Note: I work part-time for the City of Cambridge’s Arts Council.)
A half dozen years ago, he recalled, his mother telephoned him saying “she’d found this burned spoon in the house.”
“My brother was going through recovery at the time and everything seemed to be going well. And then we find another spoon and it all starts over again,” Esposito told The Providence Journal in February.
This inspired him to sculpt the large aluminum spoon, he said. “The spoon is used to cook or heat heroin or other opioids” before injecting them. “This is a symbol of what a lot of families have gone through.”
“I’ve taken the spoon in protest to the doorsteps of the pharmaceutical companies I deem responsible,” Esposito said. Purdue in June 2018, Rhodes Pharmaceuticals in Coventry, Rhode Island, in February 2019, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., in April 2019. “Lawsuits don’t have an effect on Big Pharma, as they continue to find ways to profit, pay their fines and carry on, making billions,” Esposito said when he brought the spoon to Rhodes. “Rhodes needed to be exposed so the public is aware of the strategic initiatives Big Pharma is willing to carry out to profit from.”
“It is this huge web of influence that needs to be undone,” Esposito said at the Cambridge reception.
Tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses nationwide each year. In Cambridge, 41 people died from opioids in 2016, Claude-Alix Jacob, Cambridge’s chief public health officer and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department., said at the library reception, compared to 19 deaths in 2018.
“Although deaths have decreased, usage has not. So we can’t be subdued into this false sense that we’re beating this,” Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern said. “I had the honor of signing this spoon when it was here this spring.” He said he signed it in honor of a man with a construction business who became hooked on opioids after a fall from a ladder and eventually lost his business, his family, his home, his life. “He tried so many times to overcome this disease. … I signed for him, one of the many lives lost that shouldn’t have been.”
“Where’s the help? Where’s the federal government?” Esposito said at the library reception. Purdue recently filed for bankruptcy protection as it faces thousands of lawsuits alleging that it fueled the opioid epidemic. “we’re looking for real accountability. We want them to say, ‘Yes, we’re responsible for this.’”
Esposito began his Opioid Spoon protests at a time of increasing public outcry and lawsuits against the companies that have profited from opioid use. Photographer Nan Goldin has been at the forefront of protests at art institutions funded by the Sackler family, which owns Purdue and Rhodes, including the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge in July 2018, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre in Paris.
“We will continue to place the Opioid Spoon sculpture on the doorsteps of corporations and individuals whose recklessness and irresponsibility have fueled the epidemic, publicly explaining their complicity and holding them accountable for their actions,” Esposito has written.
Beginning this spring, Espositio has toured the spoon on view in Cambridge across states from Maine to Maryland, and invited families to sign it in honor of those struggling with or lost to opioids. “Now we have this dark, ugly spoon with these lovely messages on it,” Esposito said. “They’re someone’s daughter, someone’s son that needs to have that story heard and felt.”
Esposito urged people to take action. “We need to reach people outside of this [community of people directly affected by opioids]. We need to end the stigma. We need to get federal intervention.”
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