CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) – First Lady Melania Trump took to Twitter on Friday to remind people that September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month.
Opioid addiction is now ravaging communities across the nation, along with several other forms of substance abuse.
A man in Chicago is fighting the epidemic through self-expression, gathering thousands of used drug bags and turning them into art.
It was a simple walk to the bus that started Ben Kurstin on his quest. A photographer and filmmaker by trade, but it was a glance down at his Humboldt Park sidewalk several years ago that shifted his artistic focus.
“I saw a drug bag on the ground and it had a nude woman on it and said heavy D on it. I thought it was really peculiar,” said Kurstin.
The next day he saw another, and another and another.
“I just started to pick them up to see how many I could find,” said Kurstin.
Every day on that half mile walk to and from the bus, Ben would collect drug bags, often referred to as dime bags, just steps away from his apartment.
“From the very small crack bags to the very big for marijuana,” said Kurstin. “It’s very depressing that I could pick up 50, 100, 150 in a day and the next day pick up a number that was comparable to that. Most had some sort of residue in them, whether it be heroin cocaine or marijuana. Occasionally there would be a pill, or a little bit of dust that I assumed was meth or crack.”
For nearly two years, the 32-year-old collected.
“I ended up collecting 8,816 bags,” said Kurstin.
Close to 9,000 dime bags in 150 different designs that would become a collection of art pieces, like an eight foot Richard Nixon comprised of some 4,000 bags.
American flags, beautiful mosaics, all subjects tied to the war on drugs.
Ben said he wasn’t shocked by the volume he was able to collect given that Humboldt Park sits just a quarter mile from the Eisenhower Expressway, also known as the “heroin highway.”
“What I’m hoping is that this might spark a conversation in people to rethink the war on drugs and rethink decriminalizing drugs, stopping punishing those who are hurting themselves, and moving forward in the way that other countries have in the last decade or so,” said Kurstin.
Ben has since moved out of the Humboldt Park area, he doesn’t collect bags anymore and is working on his final piece; to highlight a problem he says is under all our noses.
“It’s not that they weren’t seeing them, because they were there – It’s they weren’t seeing them because they didn’t want to see them because it’s easy to ignore, just like the addiction problem,” said Kurstin.
Ben Kurstin will be displaying his work at his very first art show, opening in October in Chicago.