Hypnotic Highway

paula roush

2015 - 2019

Hypnotic Highway is a photowork about the hypnotics crisis. I travel regularly between London where I’m based and Lisbon, where mum lived on her own. This time, when mum called for help, I had no idea I would be coming home to a landscape of pills and hallucinations …the Hypnotic Highway…

The photos were taken between the Lisbon apartment and the hospital, witnessing the impact of Zolpidol, a prescription sleeping aid, on mum’s physical and psychological condition. Zolpidol is another name for Ambien, a prescription drug whose devastating effects are well documented in countless case courts and press accounts. Whilst I was looking after mum, I immersed myself in research, only to find out that her G.P had made her dependent on the same prescription drug that killed Heath Ledger at 28 and wiped out five years of Eminem’s life when he was in his 30s. The same drug that has transformed so many brilliant individuals into Ambien Zombies as they’re characterised in the press, people with no memories of their actions under the influence.

I read the report "Living With A Prescription Drug Addict Mother Compelled Me To Fight Big Pharma and Win" by lawyer Susan Chana Lask, on her Ambien Class Action I against Sanofi Aventis, the pharmaceutical company behind the hypnotics epidemic, and this helped me identify the politics surrounding the company whose logos printed in plastic bags I found lying around the house, with pills inside. I also was inspired by photographer Nan Goldin’s essay and collection of photographs detailing her addiction to Oxycontin and her campaign against Sackler’s family Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company behind the opioids epidemics.

Mum’s physical body didn’t survive the hypnotics crisis and the journal I had started before her passing as a record of our time together, is part of the work, shared as a personal photo-essay, and meant as another call for action. As Susan Chana Lask wrote so eloquently "The doctors who killed my mother still practiced after her death. They never asked how she was. They are drug dealers."

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  • I travel regularly between London,
    where I’m based and Lisbon, where mum...nini...lives on her own. This time, when nini calls for help, I have no idea I’m coming home to a landscape of pills and hallucinations, the Hypnotic Highway...Photo: seaside road photographed during last road trip with nini to her birthplace, Algarve, southern Portugal
    August 4 2015

  • Handwritten street signage in Lumiar, near nini’s Lisbon apartment
    March 31 2018

  • Still lifes of prescription pills found in drawers and bags, arranged under the sunlight in Lisbon apartment
    March 31 2018

  • nini has been made dependent on the same prescription drug that kills Heath Ledger at 28, wipes out five years of Eminem’s life
    when he is in his 30s and transforms so many brilliant individuals into "ambien zombies," people with no memories of their actions under the influence. Photo: nini with Zolpidem pill, Lisbon apartment
    April 1 2018

  • Still lifes of prescription pills found in drawers and bags, arranged under the sunlight in Lisbon apartment
    March 31 2018

  • nini with Zolpidem pill, Lisbon apartment
    April 1 2018

  • Flic Flac Circus (recurring hallucination), photographed during last road trip with nini to her birthplace, Algarve, southern Portugal
    August 4 2015

  • Performing for the camera: nini with her crochet works, Lisbon apartment,
    July 24 2016

  • In the highs, nini is energetic, witty, funny. We bond in a playful
    mother-daughter relationship... without boundaries. A three hour bliss followed by nasty withdrawal symptoms, hallucinations, confusion and requests for a pill
    to stop ants from crawling
    all over her body. Photo: Performing for the camera: nini with her crochet works, Lisbon apartment,
    July 24 2016

  • Performing for the camera: nini with her crochet works, Lisbon apartment,
    July 24 2016

  • Life on-off-screen starts to blur. Just like Reality-TV, except this time nini is the star in the late night show "The Wedding of Deonilde." The actress has mum’s name, wedding dress and tiara;
    Isaac Alfaiate, actor with dad’s name, plays the groom. nini shows me the wedding photo as evidence: sister Zizi at the left
    godfather Oscar Knoblik
    at the right; the photographer
    hired to photograph the ceremony is hopelessly in love with the bride. Photo: nini with wedding photograph, family album. Lisbon apartment
    April 1 2018

  • Waiting for the ambulance, nini in her bedroom (the morning she collapsed)
    April 2 2018

  • When nini collapses and the emergency services rush us into Sta Maria Hospital-the same I was
    born in- the medical team doesn't see the vibrancy nor the humour
    we’re so entangled in. All they see is a body-machine to connect to other machines. Photo: nini, Hospital Sta. Maria, emergency care ward, admission day
    April 2 2018

  • Under medical care, nini, an autonomous fully functioning
    ageless woman, becomes a patient under 24 hour care,
    put on Haloperidol - an antipsychotic medication used in
    schizophrenia and drugs withdrawal. Photo: nini, Hospital Sta. Maria, emergency care ward, admission day
    April 2 2018

  • Hospital Sta. Maria, emergency care ward, admission day
    April 2 2018

  • First day back home, a terrible accident happens, when I see nini again is in the crematorium chapel. Her body covered in white, translucent gauze and silk lace
    veiling her face. Not unlike characters we used to play
    for the camera.
    A feeling experienced for the first time, in its intensity of love, loss and grief. Photo: Crematorium chapel
    May 3 2018

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