Last summer, an art gallery owner from Connecticut was arrested for leaving a large sculpture of a heroin spoon outside of Purdue Pharma’s headquarters. Fernando Luis Alvarez, says that the spoon was a gift to the drug company, which he believes is largely responsible for the opiate epidemic that has taken many lives in recent years.
The artist was charged with a criminal misdemeanor and a felony, but the courts agreed to drop all of the charges if he stayed away from Perdue for one year.
“The bigger picture, which both Domenic and I really clicked on, is the importance of creating awareness for the right type of accountability. The justice department and the country has to start putting some of these people behind bars, because they go on and make a lot of money and then they pay a fine and so be it. That is just not the way it should be,” Alvarez explained.
Among many other harmful and addictive drugs, Purdue Pharma produces the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin, which has been removed from the market in many regions. Purdue has responded to these changes in the market by giving up on OxyContin and shifting their attention to other, lesser-known opiate medications.
After the arrest, a Purdue representative told TIME that the company is just as concerned as the public is about the opiate crisis.
“We share the protesters’ concern about the opioid crisis, and respect their right to peacefully express themselves. Purdue is committed to working collaboratively with those affected by this public health crisis on meaningful solutions to help stem the tide of opioid-related overdose deaths,” the statement read.
Alvarez said that his activism is very personal, as his brother has struggled with addiction for over 14 years. He said that the burnt spoons found in his house would be a constant reminder of his brother’s demons. This was a deeply emotional issue for Alvarez, so he channeled these emotions into his art.
“The air gets basically sucked out of your body, because here you are all over again. The spoon is a symbol of darkness. It brings back some negative emotions for me,” he explained.
“I’ll take the hit. I’ll take the charges. When I represent an artist, I’m all in. I was just laser-sharp focused in seeing that sculpture there and making sure society and the media would actually get our movement going, with that spoon being a symbol of the true accountability and the true conversations we need to be having about this,” he added.
It seemed that Alvarez was planning to follow up his protest with similar stunts, however, he has not been able to pull off another one yet. Sadly, shortly after his arrest, his gallery was forced to close, although the reason behind the closure was not made public.