Artist and activist Nan Goldin has been arrested along with 12 other members of the group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) at a protest which attracted around 200 people outside of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office in New York. The group were calling on Cuomo to set up a series of overdose prevention centres in sites across New York state.
The group was detained by the New York Police Department at around midday, 28 August, after they refused to leave. Protestors could be seen holding a sign that read ‘Governor While You Wait New Yorkers Die’ and chanted slogans including ‘Cuomo lies, people die.’ Members of the group were later charged with disorderly conduct.
The protest was held to raise awareness of the large number of opioid related deaths in the state each year; in 2017 almost 1,500 people died in New York state following overdoses. P.A.I.N. is calling on Governor Cuomo to set up overdose prevention centres, spaces in which drug users can take substances in safe environments and under the supervision of medical staff.
In May 2018, New York City mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans to open prevention centres in the city. However, his proposals require approval from the State Department of Health, which is headed up by Cuomo. P.A.I.N. activists allege that while the governor has verbally pledged his support for tackling the opioid’s epidemic, he has not yet taken the required action to address the issue.
A spokesperson from Cuomo’s office responded to these allegations in a statement: ‘Governor Cuomo has led an aggressive, comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic with a focus on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery and enforcement, and we are committed to exploring all options to reduce opioid deaths.’
‘We have been in active dialogue with advocates and the City on the proposal while addressing potential law enforcement concerns and the threat of legal challenges. Above all, our top priority is protecting the lives of New Yorkers,’ the spokesperson continued.
P.A.I.N is best known for protests in prominent art galleries which bear the Sackler name, including the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Certain members of the Sackler family own Purdue Pharma, manufacturers of Oxycontin, a highly addictive prescription painkiller thought to have sparked the opioid crisis in the United States. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma were in discussions to pay between USD $10-$12 billion to settle more than 2,000 claims made against the company.
Speaking to frieze in March, Nan Goldin said: ‘There’s a surge of people fighting back against immorality. These times are so dark, so we have to fight against something, we have to pick our fight. And I picked this fight because I was an opioid addict myself.’