Words by Sydney MacDonald

For decades, the public entertained a gross misconception about opioid addiction in America. The notion that drugs like heroin were only being consumed by a singular segment of the population — people of low socioeconomic backgrounds, the homeless, minorities and criminals — was prevalent. Though this perception never truly aligned with the realities of opioid consumption in the U.S., it’s become an increasingly difficult narrative to peddle, mainly due to these drugs now seeping into and wreaking havoc on every community in the country. Everyday, an estimated 145 individuals die from opioid related overdoses in the U.S. making it the number one cause of death in America for people under 50. Having a connection to someone who’s been affected by the opioid crisis is no longer unheard of. It’s expected.  

Two years ago, Deanna Dunne got a phone call. Dunne was in the middle of teaching a class of 5th graders when she realized her mom had left her a voicemail, urging that she called her back immediately. When Deanna did, she found out that her brother died from an overdose.

Dunne was in shock. She had no idea that her brother was using opiates. Her brother Michael, was 40 at the time, married, had two daughters in middle school, and seemingly lead a very normal life. It was unimaginable to Dunne that Michael could have overdosed on heroin.

Learning about her brother’s addiction felt like a distant reality for Dunne. She knew he’d struggled with a cocaine addiction in the past, but she thought he’d been sober for ten years. “I thought he was still in recovery when I found out he overdosed.”

Growing up, Dunne says she’d been presented a very distinct imagery of addiction. “My perception of drugs was only a low life would chose to do that.” One that hit closer to home than she ever expected.

After losing a sibling to an overdose, Dunne was now faced an entirely different picture of the opioid crisis. Dunne knew she had to do something to get involved in the nationwide dialogue surrounding drug addiction. She asked herself, “how can I contribute to making this conversation less stigmatized so that things can be different in the lives of other people before things are too late?”  

In October of 2017, Dunne’s intentions turned to reality. She founded an NYC non-profit called Beyond Dope Productions. The organization brings individuals together through electronic music concerts that incorporate mindful conversations about the opioid crisis.

“It’s more of a ‘for the community, by the community’ kind of project. It started about my brother but it’s not really about me, it’s a concert for everybody. Everybody has the connection.”

Dunne believes that creating authentic human connection is a breakthrough aspect of helping those at risk. “I think the answer is forming deeper connections to the community, forming deeper connections to other individuals, as well as having a sense of purpose and belonging in a community.”

The first Beyond Dope Productions concert will be hosted May 12th at Brooklyn Bazaar. Featuring DJ’s such as Eliminate and Jantsen, along with interactive experiences, the event will be curated specifically to propel conversation and destigmatize addiction. “We need to change the idea of the junkie so to speak, because it’s so out of touch with the reality of the situation.”   

All of the proceeds from the event will go towards the research of alternative opioid treatments, such as Ibogaine therapy, along with NYC organizations that provide needle exchange programs. Dunne intends to split the funds to make a both immediate and long term differences for individuals struggling with addiction.

“My approach is to educate and encourage people to practice harm reduction until they are ready to get themselves into recovery. We always want to support people getting into recovery.”  

Beyond Dope Productions is just one example of individuals coming together to bring awareness to what has been declared a public health crisis by President Trump.

“We need to show these people love and compassion, and really empower them to have control.”