Review: The Opioid Crisis Lookbook

Text by Taylore Scarabelli
Images from Issue 2 of Opioid Crisis Lookbook

Last spring a friend of mine DM’d me a link to @theopioidcrisis_lookbook, a memetic Instagram account-turned print publication that includes everything from Lil Peep fan-fiction to Oxycontin ads from the early aughts (“THERE CAN BE LIFE WITH RELIEF”). He asked me whether it was supposed to be cringe, or academic, or both, and told me that he thought the magazine was in poor taste. I read it as satire, though I empathized with his reaction. On the Opioid Crisis Lookbook Instagram account, triggering posts include an image of a pregnant woman being injected with heroin, and a video of shackled addicts being heckled by cops during a Florida trap house drug bust. In the second issue of the magazine, an ad for Codependents Anonymous is followed by a sardonic editorial featuring Magic: The Addiction, a fictional card gamewith characters like “Nod the Comedown Clown” and “Lord Overdose.” As a result, the magazine can be interpreted as a sadistic parody of addiction and low life culture — and in many ways it is. But along with tongue-in-cheek snapshots of drug-addled celebrities like Justin Beiber there are intriguing interviews, like that with author Bruce Benderson (whose novel User documented the pain and beauty of queer culture in Times Square during the late 1980s), as well as thoughtful essays on everything from the housing crisis on Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, to Russian Columbine copycat killers. The answer to my friend’s question then, is that OCL is both cringe and academic, and that’s exactly the point. In an era when just about everyone in North America has been affected by the opioid crisis in one way or another, it’s not enough to elicit trauma porn or medical jargon as a means to document the social and cultural impacts of addiction. In fact, the Opioid Crisis Lookbook isn’t merely a reflection of the negative impacts of the epidemic. According to editor Dustin Cauchi, it’s also a celebration of the marginal narratives and cultures that the crisis has created “in all their monstrosity and sublimity, shame and taboo-free.”