"Within Reach" is a photo essay that shows vignettes of how recovering drug users and community advocates in southern Ohio grappled with the drug epidemic amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For a year, Eli Hiller focused on a community of harm-reduction workers and recovering users in Chillicothe, Ohio, where the stories of drug use are ubiquitous among the small population. Hiller made the decision to avoid photographing active drug use as not to criminalize a vulnerable population that has been recklessly stigmatized. Instead, he approached the project to symbolize the underlying causes of drug use, the progressive solutions to a drug epidemic, and the emotional toll of isolation.
At the Steps of Change Overdose Awareness event in Chillicothe, Ohio, on August 7, 2021, community members line up to memorialize Ohioans who have died from drug overdoses. Each pair of shoes represents an Ohio resident who died from a drug overdose. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Thomas Robbins, 34, shows a "help" sign at an intersection in Chillicothe, Ohio, on December 8, 2021. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Debbie Geno, 53 (left), and Jasmine Babineau, 37 (right), embrace Destiny Plaul, 29, as she kneels at the altar at the Harvest Center Church in Chillicothe, Ohio, on May 23, 2021. In late 2019, Plaul said, she had a dream where she appeared dead because of an overdose and her immediate family grieved over her corpse. The chaotic dream inspired her to give up use of methamphetamines and embrace faith. Although she is no longer drug dependent, she has had difficulty finding a job or housing. “I was praying for peace and direction on where to go,” said Plaul. “Even though I’m sober, I’m still lost. There are 200 more steps to go.” Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Thomas Robbins, 34, is shown at the entrance of his tent in Chillicothe, Ohio, on May 23, 2021. Robbins has struggled with loneliness and depression since the pandemic began in 2020. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Discarded items are piled up in a hidden wooded area in Chillicothe, Ohio, on April 27, 2021. In the past, community members and police have continually pushed people experiencing homelessness out of public spaces. Many of these individuals are now scattered around the city limits, living near train tracks and rivers. This has made it particularly hard for them to access job opportunities, resources, and care. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Adam Arredondo holds a container of naloxone spray at the Chillicothe Recovery Center on May 23, 2021. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. The recovery center frequently gives out Narcan to active users or friends of active users in case of a user's overdose in the absence of emergency personnel. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Sherrie Light and Ronnie Messinger embrace each other in Chillicothe, Ohio, on October 14, 2021. The couple both share a history of drug dependency and they were seeking a rehabilitation center that allows couples to stay together. In the past, the two have been separated by incarceration and ongoing health concerns. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.
Emily Leasure, 32, holds her son Wesley Leasure, 10, as they wait in line at a fall festival in Bainbridge, Ohio, on October 16, 2021. In 2018, Leasure lost custody of Wesley after failing numerous drug tests. “I was clean when we went to the court hearing and it wasn’t 30 minutes after that I used again,” said Leasure. “That relapse was the worst of them all. I wasn’t a parent anymore. I had lost my son.” After several years of rehabilitation and sobriety, the court allowed her to have monthly visitations with Wesley. She is now on the path to regaining custody. Image by Eli Hiller. United States.