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2020 Feature, Large Newsroom finalist

The Class of 2000

‘Could Have Been Anything’

Organization
The New York Times

Award
Feature, Large Newsroom

Program
2020

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About the Project

More than 20 years after the introduction of OxyContin — and nearly 400,000 opioid overdose deaths later — a generation is growing up amid the throes of a historic epidemic.

While the ravaging effects of opioids on families and communities across America is not a new story, Dan Levin, a reporter on the National Desk of The New York Times who focuses on young people, wanted to explore the lasting consequences of the crisis on the rural community of Minford, Ohio.

Using a high school yearbook, Levin took readers back to the Minford High School Class of 2000, who were freshmen when Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin. By their senior year, opioids were in classrooms, at parties and in school bathrooms.

We knew right away that a traditional text story would not suffice. To fully grasp what became of the Class of 2000, and the two decades that had passed since graduation, this story had to transcend traditional mediums. A team of designers was assembled, and the result is an immersive experience that leverages the power of a range of digital tools to bring alive a universally recognized teenage staple.

Readers are taken through the pages of the yearbook, as if they are flipping through the pages themselves.

“It didn’t matter what your social status was because everyone was doing OxyContin,” said an athlete. “We could have been anything,” said the prom queen, who spent her 20s cycling in and out of prison on drug-related charges.

Over the next decade, Scioto County, which includes Minford, would become ground zero in the state’s fight against opioids. It would lead Ohio with its rates of fatal drug overdoses, drug-related incarcerations and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

To understand both the scope and the devastating consequences of what is now a public health crisis, Levin talked to nearly all 110 members of the Class of 2000. Many opened up about struggles with addiction, whether their own or a relative’s, and about the years they lost to cycling in and out of jail, prison and rehab.

In all of the interviews, one thing was clear: Opioids spared almost no one in their class, and everyone appeared to know someone whose life had been affected by addiction.