What do stories about substance use and addiction look like when we focus on underrepresented communities — those often left in the margins?

As student journalists, we know that telling the stories around addiction is a difficult yet necessary job, and we were driven by the fact that these stories were worth the work to write.

In the Margins, the third series of stories from a course we took called Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction, followed the advice that our peers received in response to the class’ past projects, which called for more diversity in the coverage of substance use in Philadelphia. Often, news stories about substance use in our city focus on affluent, straight, white adults, leaving out the rest of the population that is impacted.

While we acknowledge that everyone’s substance use story is valid, we also know that it is our duty as journalists to amplify voices that are missing from the narrative. So we sought to focus our stories around communities underrepresented by the news media — those whose stories often remain in the margins.

At times, finding those missing voices proved to be a difficult task. Speaking with minors, undocumented migrants, individuals who engage in sex work, and communities who are historically discriminated against — the Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities — required vulnerable individuals to put their trust in us aspiring journalists.

Instead of changing our focus in response to these challenges, we searched harder and made deeper connections within these communities, determined to represent and reflect the city in which we’re reporting.

Whether it was through endless email chains, setting up tables around the city, social media outreach, or phone calls upon phone calls, we worked to find these voices and share these stories with you — the readers.

We thank the individuals who were open to sharing with us their experiences around substance use and trusted us to tell their stories on the sensitive topics we covered. For the purpose of privacy and protection, some last names, faces, and other identifying information have been omitted. Sources who asked for their last names to be omitted are indicated as such with an asterisk (*) following their name.

Through these stories, we hope to show perspectives on substance use and addiction that have previously been underreported and inform the public of community responses to certain problems (or lack thereof). Most importantly, we hope that we have been able to better reflect the city we cover and that these stories inspire other journalists to do the same.

What should we cover next?

Send us your ideas via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email.