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Heroin Addiction & Mortality: Mapping the Discourse & Physiology

From de Quincey to Burroughs, and Berlioz to Coltrane, opioid and heroin addiction has long coursed through the veins of human culture, and yet heroin addiction in the public sphere remains a divisive subject. Considering the startling upward trend in opioid-related deaths today, it is necessary to address the discourse that surrounds heroin use and the toxic effects that this discourse has on the practice and treatment of heroin addiction: indeed, not to address it would be dangerous.

This project will lead to an exhibition which reflects on how societal and cultural drug-related language has changed and the extent to which this has shaped the experience and consequences of drug use. In this way, it aims to provide a powerful opportunity to engage the wider public through cultural insights into the often hidden but extremely prevalent and pervasive issue of addiction.

The proposed display explores our relationship with heroin addiction and attempts to map key nodes in the complex architecture of the punitive rationale which permeates public consciousness and is echoed throughout the social fabric.

Crucially, the exhibition will further connect these narratives to a central rhythm, a visual representation of the physiological foundations of the drug’s effects.


This project is a collaboration between King's College London's Addictions Department, designer and illustrator Galia Rybitskaya and Release, supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s as part of the Early Career Researchers scheme.

Project Team:

  • Basak Tas, Addictions Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Project Lead 
  • Galia Rybitskaya, designer & illustrator, Project Collaborator.
  • Release, the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, Project Collaborator
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