Changing Public Perception of Heroin Recovery

Presented by: Kimberly Burke, Kurt Grannan

Introduction As interior design programs struggle to balance credit hours with the demands of industry, required curriculum, and accreditation, how can schools provide meaningful learning opportunities for students to use design skills to serve the common good. Students can participate in mission trips and service projects but the scope of the experience is limited and most do not allow students to fully utilize their design skills. Our university is geographically located near the epicenter of the heroin epidemic and most of the students and faculty are removed from the effects. We saw this as an opportunity to educate our students and show them the power of their gifts as young designers. This presentation follows an interdisciplinary studio (interior design and graphic design) whose goal was to change public perception of heroin recovery. Mission: Through social activism and artistic practice our goal was to help change public perception of heroin recovery, engender compassion and support for those addicts strong enough to attempt recovery, continue breaking down the “them, not us” mentality and eliminate the notion that addicts are a disposal part of society. We set out to create a brand that relates to a safe place that makes it easier to manage the transformation process: including prevention of active use, relapse, engaging those in treatment and working collaboratively through recovery. Interior Design: Working with an organization that runs rehabilitation centers and members of the Heroin Impact Response Team, Interior Design students researched and created a vision for the redesign of the WW Doctors Building into a recovery center. The students created collateral material showing a vision for the facility that could be used for fund raising efforts. Executional Considerations While this is a serious topic, communications need to feel uplifting & inspiring. Most people do not understand recovery or how it differs from other forms of treatment. There is a stigma that paints addicts as a disposal part of society requiring an educational component to most consumer-facing materials to alter misperceptions. Immersive Experiences Throughout the semester students and faculty were immersed in the cause; • Attending meetings of the Heroine Impact Response Team (HIRT) and the local chapter of People Advocating Recovery (PAR). • Meeting with the community leaders, politicians, administrators and caregivers of all levers. • Interviewing recovered addicts and their families • Touring different types of recovery centers including detox, long term care centers, women and children shelters and a methadone clinic • Talking with clients, staff members, and care givers at different recovery facilities. Conclusion Throughout the semester the students and faculty developed a true understanding of the challenges of addiction and its web of destruction that plagues addicts and their communities. Not only did attitudes about heroin change but a pay it forward mentality developed as students shared their experiences with family, friends, and colleagues. The interdisciplinary nature of the studio encouraged interaction between disciplines and a better understanding of collaborative field work. Student effort and interest increased significantly throughout the semester as they understood the potential impact of their work. As a class, the students developed material for the recovery efforts and designed a recovery center to meet the specific needs of the local community. Their work was shared with community leaders and plans for a new recovery center have just been announced. The students felt that this was the most meaningful learning experience of their educational career and the university is seeking future opportunities for similar interdisciplinary immersive courses.


  • Cherkis, J. (2015, March 25). Kentucky's New Heroin Law Marks A 'Culture Shift'. Retrieved from Huff Post:
  • The Leadership Team of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response. (November 14, 2013). Northern Kentucky’s Collecti Response to the Heroin Epidemic. Covington: Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Team.
  • Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): 12-Step Facilitation Therapy. (2012, December 02/25/2015). Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse:
  • Kaplan, J. (1985). The Hardest Drug: Heroin and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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