Photographer Nan Goldin Discusses Three-Year Opioid Addiction Battle

By Beth Leipholtz 04/13/18

Goldin says she was given OxyContin after an operation. Within a month, she was dependent.

Nan Goldin
Photo via YouTube

Photographer Nan Goldin has witnessed a crippling epidemic before; she photographed the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. But she has recently found herself in the midst of another epidemic: the opioid crisis. 

According to Interview magazine, Goldin, who is known for her portrait work, recently spoke about her own struggles with opioid use at the Liberatum festival in Mexico City. 

Goldin, who struggled with opioid use for three years, says her use began when she was given OxyContin after an operation. Within a month, she says, she became dependent. 

“I ended up living entirely in my own bedrooms: I had a bedroom in New York and a bedroom in Berlin, and a bedroom in Paris, and anywhere I travelled, I stayed in the bedroom,” Goldin said at the festival. “So, I missed the world totally for about three years, and it got to be the point where all I was doing was counting my pills and snorting them and crushing them, and counting and recounting. So my world had become very small.”

Soon, Goldin says, she had no money. At $30 a pill, OxyContin had become too expensive. So, she began using heroin and fentanyl. Eventually, she overdosed on fentanyl which led her to seek treatment. 

“So, a year ago today, I got out of treatment and I stayed in the hospital for two and a half months and I came off everything,” she said at the festival. “I came out and that’s when I became aware of the statistics of the opioid crisis. And I decided that this was something I dealt with so deeply myself, that this was the place I should start pushing back.”

Most recently, she pushed back by protesting donations to arts institutions from members of the Sackler family. On March 10, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Goldin led about 50 people in a protest in the museum’s wing named for the Sacklers. 

“This family [descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler] is the private owners of Purdue Pharma where OxyContin was first invented, where it was first developed, and they market it in a horrendous way,” Goldin said. 

“And we designed beautiful bottles of fake OxyContin prescriptions, and we threw a thousand of them into the pool, the moat around the temple (in the museum).”

Goldin says she is a proponent of harm reduction practices, such as injection sites and medication assisted treatment. 

In order to bring attention to the crisis, Goldin is doing what she knows best: taking photos.

“Shame is preventing tens and thousands of people from getting help, so we decided we would do some kind of campaign where I would photograph people who are willing to be photographed—people who have lost people, telling their story, people who are activists promoting different treatments… just to give people hope,” she said at the festival.

“There’s no faith in this disease. So this is about faces that people can relate to, to find some kind of hope, because the only thing that helps addicts is compassion.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.