Ten Photos From 2020 That Reflect 2021’s Biggest Challenges

January 4, 2021

Few years in living memory have been as dramatic and distressing as 2020, and many of us were glad to put it behind us. As a photographer in New York City, I ventured out when I could to portray some of the most urgent harm reduction and human rights issues of these times.

We all hope that 2021 will be better. But if we want it, we will have to fight for it, as the injustices illustrated below reflect.


Bathroom wall at TD Garden, Boston. The opioid-related overdose crisis continued unabated before the COVID-19 pandemic, and worsened during it. Despite the DEA easing take-home regulations, methadone is still difficult to access across the US.


Lower East Side, Manhattan. Drinking increased during the pandemic, though not because people suddenly acquired a brain disease.


Harlem. COVID-19 dramatically worsened the lives of people who are unhoused. How do you stay at home if you don’t have one?


Harlem. Accessing sterile syringes became more difficult during the pandemic.


Onestop Harm Reduction Program, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Yet despite restrictions, harm reduction organizations found creative ways to continue supporting people who use drugs.


Downtown Manhattan, near City Hall. The Black Lives Matter movement exploded across the country and forced a reckoning not only with police violence but with structural racism.


City Hall. The fight to defund the police and transfer funding and resources to non-police agencies got a huge boost as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.


Lower East Side. As legislation restricting the sale of safer nicotine products passed in states across the country, cigarettes remained available everywhere.


Memorial at Christopher Street Pier, Manhattan. New York’s harm reduction community lost one its strongest, most committed fighters in Elizabeth Owens. VOCAL-NY vows to continue the fight for the rights of people who use drugs in her memory.


Washington Square Park, Manhattan. Trump was voted out, but what will the Biden-Harris administration do to help the millions facing homelessness, eviction, unemployment and lack of access to drug treatment and healthcare?


Dispensary in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Four more states legalized cannabis for adult use in 2020, bringing the total to 15. For-profit corporations owned by white investors continue to dominate the nascent legal cannabis industry.



All photographs by Helen Redmond.

Helen Redmond

Helen is the senior editor of Filter. She has written about nicotine, mental health and drug policy for publications including Al Jazeera, AlterNet, Harper’s and The Influence. As an LCSW, she works with drug users in medical and community mental health settings. An expert on tobacco harm reduction, she provides training and consultation on mental health, nicotine use and THR, and in 2016 organized the first Tobacco Harm Reduction Conference in the US. Helen is also a documentary filmmaker.

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