A military veteran and student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia is using his skills as a photographer to protest the overmedication of our nation’s heroes.
Mike Whiter, 39, launched the photo project “Operation Overmed,” which features pictures of veterans, including Whiter, rejecting pharmaceutical options and using alternative treatments such as medical marijuana for their health issues.
Whiter told NBC10 he joined the Marines at the age of 19 and eventually became a Staff Sergeant. After the Iraq War, Whiter was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically discharged. He went to a VA Hospital which placed him on medication.
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“Over a period of five years I was on 40 different medications,” he said. “Everything from anti-depressants to anti-anxiety medication. At one point they had me on Methadone for chronic pain. I was 35 at the time.”
Wanting to find an alternative to the medication, Whiter started using medical marijuana after watching a documentary about it in 2012. Since then he hasn’t turned back.
“I felt more relaxed after one joint than I had after tons of combinations of pharmaceuticals,” he said. “I threw away my pills and my quality of life is better than it has been in years. I think it is very important to note that cannabis is not a cure for PTSD, but in combination with therapy, it can open a whole new world for you.”
Whiter also decided to pursue his passion in photography and enrolled in the Art Institute of Philadelphia. That’s where the foundation for his photo project took shape.
“I was having a hard time in the studio photographing subjects,” he said. “I have a hard time interacting with people sometimes. One of my professors said, ‘why don’t you shoot veterans? Then I decided to take it a few steps further and involve my activism.”
Whiter launched Operation Overmed in June 2. While the series so far has gotten attention from the medical marijuana community, Whiter hopes the project will reach a wider audience.
“I’m photographing people that use medical marijuana now because I’m a marijuana activist and I run in those circles so I know these people,” he said. “But I’m meeting other people who say, ‘Hey, I don’t use medical marijuana but screw the pill.’ The point is, all of these veterans have chosen alternative treatments whether its medical marijuana or acupuncture, yoga, I don’t care what it is. As long as they’re saying screw these pills, I want to do what’s right for my body. I’m taking my health into my own hands. And that’s what I want to show with these photographs.”
Whiter says his ultimate goal is to draw attention to the countless veterans who shared an experience similar to his own.
“Twenty-seven states report 22 veteran suicides a day,” Whiter said. “A lot of that can be attributed to the medications because guys with PTSD who are already suicidal are taking medications that have increased risks of suicidal thoughts or actions listed as a side effect. I was one of those guys. I was a slave. I was in my house stuck in my head for like five years man, just on all these pills.”
Whiter, who says the response to the project has been “overwhelmingly positive,” hopes his message will reach the average citizen.
“Veterans are overmedicated,” he said. “That’s the message that I really want to send out. The VA is killing the people who fought for this country and it’s not right.”