MDHHS, Vital Strategies launch public arts campaign to illustrate impact of drug overdose crisis

July 22, 2021
Contact: Lynn Sutfin, 517-241-2112

LANSING, Mich. - In honor of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 and National Recovery Month in September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Vital Strategies are partnering with community-based organizations to launch a public arts campaign aimed at broadening awareness of the drug overdose crisis in Michigan.

National reporting shows drug overdoses spiked during the pandemic. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data shows more people died of an overdose in 2020 than any other year on record in the United States, reemphasizing the need to create communities foundationally rooted in compassion and dignity for people who use drugs and people in all stages of recovery.

"We're proud to support this partnership, which will draw on the storytelling power of art in communities hard-hit by the surging overdose crisis," said Daliah Heller, director of drug use initiatives, Vital Strategies. "Art has power, and this community-driven initiative can bring people who use drugs out of the shadow of stigma and promote a supportive and caring response."


Overdose Awareness Day recognizes the risks of overdose, honors individuals whose lives have been lost, reduces stigma of drug-related harms and acknowledges the collective grief felt by friends, families and communities impacted by the drug overdose crisis.

In partnership with the Downriver Council for the Arts in Wyandotte, MDHHS and Vital Strategies will commission artists affected by the drug overdose crisis to create art for a powerful exhibit entitled Collective Healing through Art: 2021 Overdose Awareness Day Exhibit.

"Downriver Council for the Arts is honored to support this initiative to broaden awareness of the drug overdose crisis that has taken so many lives across the state," said Erin Suess, executive director of Downriver Council for the Arts, "Art is healing, and this opportunity will empower individuals impacted by this crisis and create a space for collective healing for anyone impacted by the drug crisis."

Recovery Month is recognized during the month of September to support the treatment workforce and promote the message that recovery is possible for everyone. In partnership with City Walls Detroit, MDHHS and Vital Strategies will commission three Michigan-based artists or collaborative teams with lived experience with drug use or the effects of the crisis to create murals symbolizing the impact of the drug overdose crisis. Since 2017, City Walls Detroit has facilitated the creation of 87murals across the City of Detroit covering over 120,000 square feet of wall space.

"City Walls Detroit could not be more grateful to be included in this great community-based collaborative effort to elevate the message of recovery and hope," said Zak Meers, project manager of the City Walls Detroit program, "We cannot wait to see what the arts community comes up with to highlight that message of resilience on these highly visible and easily assessable public-facing walls, because after all it is not about how many times you get knocked down…it is about how many times you get up!"

Murals will be hosted by three recovery-oriented, community-based organizations- the National Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependence- Greater Detroit Area, the Detroit Recovery Project and the Detroit Association of Black Organizations. 

Both opportunities seek to elevate the voices of artists who are people with lived experience with drug use, and in particular artists of color. In 2019, opioid overdose deaths fell by 16.9 percent for white residents, but continued to rise for Black residents, laying bare the inequities characterizing this epidemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the deadly impact of health disparities on people of color. African American men, particularly in large central metropolitan areas, such as Detroit, died of an overdose at a rate over 1.5 times higher than their white counterparts during the onset of the pandemic last year.

"We have made important progress in addressing opioid use and reducing deaths, but we can and must do more. That is particularly true across communities of color as a part of our work to reduce health disparities in Michigan," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. "This public art serves as a reflection of the personal impact of the drug overdose crisis and the opportunities we have to meet people where they are with dignity, compassion and the resources they need when they need them."

Collective Healing through Art will open on Aug. 31 and run through Sept.18. To learn more about the exhibit, visit

To submit art to the Collective Healing through Art exhibition, visit Deadline to submit for the exhibition is July 27.

To submit for the mural opportunities and learn more about the community spaces, visit Call to Artist | City of Detroit ( Deadline to submit concepts for the mural opportunities is Aug. 14.

For more information and resources, visit

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country's overdose crisis. The initiative-a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.

For more information visit

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