Beautiful Brain Project

Who We Are

Our names are Heloise de Baun and Anna Beloborodova. We first met through work at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 2021. Our experiences seeing loved ones struggle with fentanyl addiction inspired us to get involved in promoting harm reduction practices to people who use drugs, and increasing public awareness of substance use disorders.

We are passionate about reducing overdoses and spreading as much awareness as we can about safe drug use, the lifesaving potential of Naloxone (Narcan), and the various treatment options that exist for opioid addiction.

What We Do

We founded the Beautiful Brain Project to serve those who have been affected by drug use and addiction, and for the friends and families of those affected. We strive to fight the stigma surrounding substance use disorders, and provide information on the latest research related to drug use and addiction.

We regularly conduct Narcan trainings and distribute free Narcan kits to the public. We conduct these trainings primarily in the greater New York City Area, New Haven, and Long Island.

Lastly, we strive to provide a platform for people who have been affected by opioid use disorders to speak out about their addiction and their recovery. We do so to help fight stigma and give hope to those who face similar challenges.

Narcan Training Events

individuals trained to dispense Narcan

Upcoming Training Events

Friday, March 22nd, 2024 @ 5PM - Gather East Rock (ALL WELCOME)

Past Training Events

Saturday, September 24th, 2022 - Health and Community Resource Fair
Sunday, November 5th, 2022 - New York State Psychiatric Institute
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022 - New York State Psychiatric Institute
October 30th, 2023 - Yale University
January 24th, 2024 - Yale University


G, 29

"Right now I have 70 days of sobriety. I’ve gotten up to 8 months before. I used everything, but my drug of choice was opioids, mostly fentanyl. I struggled also with alcohol and crack – those were the big three.

I probably realized that I had alcoholic tendencies when I was 21, when I really started drinking heavily. I realized that I wanted to feel like this all the time and I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t drink like other people. Then when I was 23 I was prescribed a bunch of opioids. It wasn’t the first time I got prescribed them, but it was the first time I started abusing them. It was kinda the same thing of wanting to feel like this all the time, forever. When I was 24 or 25 I got re-introduced to them.

I first tried to get sober in early 2020. That was the beginning of my recovery journey. But I quickly fell back into substances because I was hoping that sobriety would make me feel good right away, the way drugs did. But it didn’t, so I relapsed after a few months.

Things escalated a lot quicker that time. After about a month I ended up losing my job. I was holding on to a lot of my own reservations, my own beliefs, my own thinking and I was just miserable the entire time. I felt very disconnected. This last time it was at the point where I was going to kill myself, and I ended up in a hospital instead. I was trying to overdose and die, but eventually people intervened and got me into treatment. It was a last resort, like if I’m going to die I might as well try this. That’s where I’m at today.

Trying to live life on my terms wasn’t working. A part of it was also that the drugs stopped working – they weren’t doing for me what they used to do. My depression was still seeping through. I’m at the same treatment center now where I went to two years ago, and a lot of the people I was there with were just as fucked up as I was, and now they seem a lot better, they seem brighter, they seem happier. They seem like they found some solution, and that gives me a lot of hope that maybe there is some solution.

I think that people like myself are just trying to feel okay, or even just normal. People use drugs because it does something for them. For me, it helped quiet my depression and made me feel loved, and I think that’s something that everyone deserves to feel. It’s not just about getting fucked up and being crazy. My using was because I wanted to fill a basic human need, and at the time it was the only way I knew how. There’s not a lot of empathy around that; these are people that are hurting, who just want to feel okay. Public opinion is that these are just junkies who are wasting away life because they just want to get fucked up.

There’s kind of a cliche that I’m still trying to grasp myself: don’t give up before the miracle happens. Addicts have been conditioned, and their brains wired, to expect instant gratification. That's only how drugs work. Very few things in life work that way. Things take time, recovery takes time, healing takes time. And it takes work to get to that place. But those things are worth it. To the people that are still using, I would say that it doesn’t have to be so black and white – like you can only be working on yourself if you’re sober. Harm reduction – things like Narcan and clean needles – help, but also therapy. You can still ask for help and support if you’re still using. Practice honesty with yourself. Is this serving me? Or do I need to go do something else and change?

Carry Narcan. I’ve been saved by Narcan and saved someone’s life with Narcan. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it."
M, 28

"By college I was using harder drugs: Xanax, a lot of alcohol, a lot of weed, hallucinogens – anything that I could get my hands on.  I had this mindset that whenever I could celebrate or wanted a good time, it would always be with drugs. That was what I rewarded myself with. I didn’t know how to have fun without substances. After college, I had started taking oxy pills – which were probably fentanyl, but I don’t know – now and then, usually with friends to go out. And then it slowly became once every weekend, and then after my ex broke up with me, I was pretty distraught so I started taking it every day. That’s when I consider it converted to a full-blown addiction. I took it for 6 weeks straight and I knew that I was going to have to go through the withdrawals, but despite that I kept using.

The whole time I knew I couldn’t do it for a long time. I knew it was bad for me, that it was wrong, that it was a problem and that it would only get harder to stop. So even at the 3- or 4-week mark, it was in the back of my mind that I needed to stop very soon. I weaned myself down, which is really hard to do and I don’t think I could successfully do that later on in my addiction. By that first time I was very highly motivated, so that made it a little bit easier. I still remember the withdrawals being horrible. My whole body hurt, I felt depressed, there were weird muscle twitches, I couldn’t sleep. I was depressed for at least a week or two. I didn’t tell anyone at the time.

I relapsed a bunch of times. Honestly, a lot of it is blurry. I think I used for weeks at a time, but never as bad as six weeks. It was really hard to permanently stop using. I remember trying to quit a bunch of times and going back to it. So eventually I realized that I needed more help and that I couldn't quit. One of my friends had taken naltrexone -- Vivitrol -- before, so I found a doctor who would give it to me and that was when I first started medication treatment. At the time when I was on it, I really thought it saved my life and it was the only thing preventing me from relapsing. But I’m not sure how true that is. Acutely, it helped because it kept me sober for the month. The problem is that I would relapse every time near the end. It did the work for me, so I didn’t have to put any mental effort into resisting taking the drug. But that fucked me over because as soon as the Vivitrol ran out I would go right back to using.

When I moved and started graduate school, being away from my dealer and being super busy really kept me sober. I would still get cravings and relapse, but it was less often. My last relapse was in January (almost 1 full year ago). I attribute it more recently to taking Kratom because it took my cravings away. It’s definitely not the level of highness that I achieved with fentanyl, but it probably satisfies some drug craving where I don’t have to deal with tiredness or uncomfortableness in the moment. But I don’t see it as fully substituting one drug for another. I see it more similarly to methadone and suboxone, where maybe stimulating the opioid receptors helps to keep you clean. 

I don’t face stigma because nobody knows. The only people who know are either addicts themselves or people who already know me extremely well and who I trust. I definitely am scared and don’t want to tell a lot of people. If you have no idea that someone is using drugs, you’re not going to guess that some behavior change – like being in a really good mood – is from opioids. We can attribute behavior to so many things, so it can be hard to tell. 

Fentanyl is just extremely addictive. It makes you feel amazing. It takes all your worries away, you feel confident, you don’t feel pain and it’s just a feeling that I think most people would always want to feel again.

I wish people would understand how horrible withdrawals feel, just so people generally can have a little bit more sympathy for people going through them. There’s definitely an element that feels out of your control, and I think other people struggling with substances feel similarly. Which is why I think NA goes on and on about relinquishing your control after a certain point. You give power over. I’m not religious and I don’t do NA but I think there is a point where you have to at least acknowledge that you need help, and ask for help. Because at some point you’re just going to want to use again. I had to learn that even in the moment, no matter how badly I wanted to quit or how confident I felt, there’s going to be a time in the future where you’re going to want to use again.

I forget sometimes that I ever had an issue, or that fentanyl was ever a part of my life. Now that I’m in school, it largely takes up what I think about most days. Right now I feel like I’m never going to use again. Unless someone put it in front of me, then I don’t think I’d have the self control honestly. This is kind of sad, but sometimes when I do really think about how it made me feel, I do think that one day I would want to try it one more time. But maybe not actually. I don’t know. I know it’s bad. I go through moments where I do get very scared and I think Oh my God, what if this never goes away and it really destroys my life? I think about how bad it is, and I get anxious about people ever finding out. And other times I feel like it’s not that big of a deal and it’s not an issue anymore and I’m fine. It’s hard to change my relationship with it. I think if I do use again, it would be nice for the first couple of hours but then all of the terrible memories and feelings will rush back. Then I just want to take the naltrexone to get it out of my system, I don’t want to wait. The longer it’s in me the longer the withdrawals are going to take."

S, 28

"The first time I used opioids was in freshman year of college. I used other pills then too, but I wasn't really getting my hands on opioids that often. After college I started using them more. By the time I was 24, I had my first real habit with opioids. I had had other habits and other addictions, but not opioids yet. From then until 27, I spent that time trying to get off of opioids.

I’ve been clean for a little over 11 months now. I go to NA every other day, 4 or 5 times a week. It helps a lot. Opioid addiction was more consuming than my other addictions. All addictions are consuming but opioid addiction felt like it was my favorite. It was the one that I would break my rules for, and my moral code. It was the one that got me to do that. The other ones couldn’t, but opioids could, they changed who I was.

Every time I used it I knew it wasn’t a good thing, but even when it had gotten to daily use I still said it wasn’t a problem, even though I knew very well subconsciously that it was. I’ve been going to NA for a few years now, but this year is the year I started getting it, finally. That was important because I never would have gotten that switch in my mind to get clean if I hadn’t been going to NA already. I had instructions on what to do if I was craving, and people would tell me stories about what worked for them. I was more willing to listen to them than to counselors and doctors who had never really gone through it themselves. 

The opioid addiction was obvious, there was no way to hide it. People felt sad when they saw me. I was barely conscious a lot of the time, always falling asleep, not really present even if I was there. So they didn’t want to be around me, understandably so. In the moment it felt offensive, it felt like it didn’t have to do with my addiction. I was in denial and thought they were just being mean. I had to convince myself essentially so that I could keep using.

I feel like many people don’t care, because it's never happened to them or their family or their friends. But with the opioid crisis going on, I feel like most people know someone who has gone through it, or if they haven't they will soon. It can affect anyone. Anyone can have an injury, go to the doctor one day and get prescribed pills and get addicted to them and so on. I really feel like it’s an epidemic for the whole country and the whole world, and people should care about it even if it doesn’t directly affect them because it could and eventually probably will. I don’t know why people don’t focus on it the same way they focus on other things.

It’s not a choice you make, it’s a symptom of a mental illness. It’s based on something else that you can’t control. I think using is a way of not addressing those things. Once you’re off the drugs, those things come flying at you and you have to address them, otherwise they’re just poking at you for your entire life. You have to deal with it in order to live a peaceful life.

Most addicts spend years trying to get clean. Most are addicts for the rest of their lives even if they don’t use. They’ll have dreams, they’ll have cravings. The cravings will get weaker the longer you stay clean but you'll still have those sensations. The addiction is a symptom of a bigger mental illness and that's something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. And it gets easier, but like with any illness you have to keep it at bay. Relapse is a part of the story. I’ve gotten clean many times, but I’ve relapsed after those times – until the last time. The important thing after relapse is not to keep on falling down the hill but to catch yourself as soon as you do, to realize what led you astray. There’s a reason for why you relapsed, and if you do address it then you have a better chance at being clean next time."

N, 23

"When I was 15, my brother got wisdom teeth surgery, and I stole his hydros. I heard a lot of hype around opioids. I liked how the hydros felt, so I started to use them whenever I could get them. Then I traded a kid an eighth of weed for 90 pills of hydrocodone and really fell in love with how opioids made me feel. Throughout high school I started to do oxy too. I didn’t know this at the time, but when I thought I was doing hydros, I was actually snorting heroin.

When I was 18, I was exposed to fentanyl. The first time I did fentanyl, it was very much an “I made it” moment. It was like, this is how I've wanted to feel for a very long time. From that point on it got pretty dark. I would go on runs where I was either sleeping on someone’s floor or staying in a shelter and doing anything and everything I could do to get high. I kept relapsing. I tried suboxone, but I wasn’t in the right headspace - I just didn’t want to be sober. But I figured that suboxone was better than nothing. So they put me on the highest dose of suboxone, but I just tapered myself off in order to get high. A friend of a friend’s overdosed and I remember calling my parents and crying because I thought that was going to be me, and I really didn’t want it to be me. But regardless, a month later I relapsed again.

Throughout my use there were a lot of moments when I had used too much, and I would wake up and I had thrown up or had no idea how long I was had been out for. I was sleeping on a towel on the floor of a drug house, and this woman who really cared about me called a wellness check, and I was actually overdosing. So Narcan saved my life. Two weeks after, I signed out of treatment and went to New York to do more. Opioids are just very powerful. Thankfully I was stopped – there were 6 guys who knew, and they saved me from myself. Then I got a call that my best friend in Minnesota had overdosed. I told myself that I would try to get sober for him, and it didn’t work. I relapsed again with my other best friend, who is like a brother to me. And I knew that opioids were going to kill me, so I tried to get sober again but my best friend didn’t. A month later I called the police to search his home, and they found him overdosed. That just made it very concrete to me that opioids were going to kill me and that I probably was not going to make it to 22.

Now I’m part of a 12-step program, and I’m coming up on 2 years sober. I’m in college with a 4.0, I have a job that I really enjoy, I have a girlfriend, and a really strong connection with my family that wasn’t there for a long time. When I was using, I had no friends. The only people I would associate myself with were the type of people who would probably leave me dead and take my drugs. In my family, everyone kinda stopped talking to me except my mom. My mom was the only person still trying to keep me alive. When I was around 19, every time I would go on a run my dad would beg my mom to let me die and to stop fighting. From 17 on, my entire family was convinced that they would receive a call someday that I was dead. And today, I have a little sister who I get to support. I have a weekly phone call to check in with my older brother, and my parents and I are on great terms. We talk at least once a week. They’re super proud of me, they’re blown away by my life today. They don’t worry about me nearly as much as they used to. The big piece for me was seeing my two best friends die. That’s the reality of opioid addiction.

I was young and an idiot. I liked how weed and alcohol felt, so I figured I’d like how pills felt too.

To people using – stay safe. Don’t use alone. There’s harm reduction clinics everywhere that have safe supplies and a bunch of Narcan. And to people who don’t have an understanding of opioid addiction – your depiction of a junkie is probably not an accurate representation of an addict. It could be anybody. I just do believe that as long as the stigma is around, more people are going to lose their lives for no reason. If we keep pushing people to hide that they’re struggling with addiction, it’s going to be more parents losing their sons or daughters, or siblings losing their siblings, or kids losing their parents."