Monday, February 14, 2011

Dangerous Prescription Drugs for Men's Health

Early November, I was running around New York after a busy day of meetings. I got off the train at Grand Central, and had just come above ground. I was on my way to meet my Uncle Chuck at his ad agency so we could grab some dinner and drinks. My phone rang, a 212 number, so I figured it was somebody I had set a meeting up with that week.

"Hi! This is Jeanne with Men's Health!"
(I hadn't set up a meeting with them, and it had been probably a year since I initially e-mailed them.)

We talked for a moment about my availability, and I told her that I happened to be in New York for the AP26 party at the Annenberg Space for Photography. As it turns out, she was going to be at the party as well, so it was really great to have a chance to meet her. Happy coincidence, no doubt.

The story ended up being one I was very interested in- prescription painkiller abuse in Southern Ohio. The two victims the story focused on were males around my age who had passed away as a result of drug use and the circumstances surrounding it. I spent three days working with two families and photographing prescription pain clinics in Portsmouth, Ohio. Pain clinics pass themselves off as "doctor's offices," but with the sole purpose of providing prescriptions and painkillers to nearly anyone who has pain. Many of the local pharmacies won't fill scrips from these places, so some of them have in house pharmacies. It's a problem that took root in Florida, and has slowly worked it's way up to Ohio. Jeanne was excited to have me onboard due to my work in Glouster, Ohio, and I was very happy to shed light on the issues I've pursued over the years.

15 minutes away from the first clinic, I got a call from my editor that the one we were en route to had been raided by the DEA the day before. The problem lies in that they're not federally legal, but the states don't have the laws in place to prevent doctors from selling prescription drugs in-house.

I really couldn't have done it without my two assistants, friend and housemate Stephen Pence and the talented Maddie McGarvey. In some instances, they acted as get away drivers while photographing in less-than-ideal circumstances. Namely, while waiting for patients to come in out and out of the clinics and the ensuing situations resulting from employees coming outside to yell at me for photographing their establishments. The first day on the shoot, Stephen and I noticed that some of the clinics kept lookouts- a man casually sitting in a car in the parking lot taking notes and watching us, etc. It was important, too, that we photographed symbols of the medical presence in town. Not in a negative manner, but just to show the balance of real medicine vs. pain clincs.

Here are some images from the story that can be read here.

Thanks so much to Jo Anna Krohn of Portsmouth and Rick Dickerson of Bellville. I am truly sorry for their losses, and do hope this article sheds light on the issues at hand. With more press of this nature, I do hope that the state laws that allow these establishments change.




I'm a freelance photographer currently based in Columbus, Ohio and available for assignment anywhere you'd like to send me.
Please contact me directly at +1 440 897 6758 or

All images and content © Andrew Spear, 2010. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission of author, under penalty of law. He can be contacted at +1 440 897 6758 for any questions.

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