Are drug overdose images raising awareness or stigmatizing addiction?

drug overdose images raising awareness stigmatizing addiction

Overdose pics are going viral, and they’re coming from unlikely sources – police departments in small towns across the U.S.

Police departments have been releasing photos/videos of unconscious individuals with substance use disorders under the premise that such imagery will raise awareness and allow the public to see what officers see on a daily basis.

But do these images serve their intended purpose or further stigmatize substance abuse?

Police in Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts, recently released a disturbing video of a 36-year-old woman from New Hampshire, collapsed on the floor of a local Family Dollar store as her 2-year-old daughter in pink pajamas cried and desperately tried to wake her up. The cellphone video, initially taken by a store employee, quickly went viral.

Although the woman survived the overdose after receiving two doses of naloxone, she was charged with child endangerment and had her daughter taken into emergency custody by the Department of Children and Families.

Later, she admitted to a Boston television station that she had sniffed fentanyl before getting in the car to pick up her daughter.

“If the concept is that they want to make the most effect on people and show what’s truly happening out there certainly there may be a benefit,” said Essex County Police Chief Peter Silva. “But I think it’s a case-by-case situation. I can’t make a blank statement and say that every case should be released to the public.”

Chief Silva said he feels strongly that society needs “to wake up” and that such images are being used because they were taken in public places.   

“The ‘big brother’ is in the public all over the place right now,” he said. “So I think being selective at times, can be counterproductive. You’re out in the public, you know that you’re in a place where the public has the right of access. The public does have cameras, there are public cameras every place you go. Most times you don’t even know you’re on camera.”

Officers in Massachusetts decided to blur the face of the child featured in the video they released, but a police department from East Liverpool, Ohio, did not.

On September 8, East Liverpool police used their Facebook page to share a picture (taken the day before) of a visibly shocked 4-year-old boy in the backseat of a dark Ford Escape while his grandmother and a male, who had been driving, sat in the front of the vehicle unresponsive after overdosing on heroin.     

The post got about 6,000 comments, many coming from people who questioned why the picture was even released and why the child’s face was not blurred.

East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane said he was the one who made the decision to release the original pictures – after the overdoses had been reversed, with several rounds of Narcan, and the couple had been taken to East Liverpool City hospital.

“I discussed [blurring the child’s face] with the mayor and the safety-service director,” he said. “It wasn’t something I did without thinking. When we took that kid’s face out of there, you lost the impact of it. He kind of just blends in. You leave his face showing and just drives the point home. There are other victims involved in this problem.”

The pictures make it difficult to avoid thinking about how… (continue reading)