A man, perhaps 6 feet tall and in his mid-50s, stands in the William Pitt Union. He wears a mustache, a collared shirt, and a coat that seems too light for this January day. He is sobbing softly. Opposite him is a black wall covered in 22,000 little white pills, each engraved with the face of someone who has died in the opioid epidemic.
The wall is part of the exhibition Prescribed to Death: A Memorial to the Victims of the Opioid Crisis. We’ve all seen the headlines: In the United States, 22,000 people died from a prescription opioid overdose in 2015, making drug overdoses, predominantly from opioids, the number one cause of all accidental deaths in adults—and that number is growing. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for opioid deaths. But according to the National Safety Council, one-third of people on these substances don’t even realize they are taking an opioid. Prescribed to Death organizers hope to educate the public about the reality of the crisis. The first stop was on Pitt’s campus from January 30 to February 2.