Are drug overdose images raising awareness or stigmatizing addiction?

often children are the real victims of addiction, and Lane emphasized that was his number one goal: to raise awareness.

“Up until the point the picture was released, the public wasn’t aware of it at all,” he said. “Even officers here really weren’t aware of how bad of a situation it can be when addiction takes over people’s lives.”

According to Lane, the safety of the child was another reason behind the public release of the photos. Such safety was compromised considering the grandmother photographed in the car was the one who had custody of the minor.

“She wasn’t thinking about him,” Lane said. “He wasn’t her priority. Without releasing those pictures that little kid would still be with her. I released that picture and that kid was immediately taken from her.”

Custody of the boy was granted to his great uncle and great aunt, who reside in South Carolina.

Rhonda Pasek, the 50-year-old grandmother, was arrested and charged with child endangerment, not wearing a seat belt, and public intoxication. On September 15, she was sentenced to 180 days in jail, after pleading no contest to the charges.

Before the incident, she already had a criminal record, which included several intoxication charges and arrests.

The man, later identified as James Lee Acord, was charged with endangering a child and slowing/stopping in a roadway. He also pleaded no contest and is serving a 360-day sentence.

Although much more needs to be done to address the drug problem in Ohio, some positive outcomes came from those pictures.  

Lane explained: “Until those photos were released we had no programs, no places to get people treatment. Now we have programs in place.”

Police across Ohio and other states – like Indiana and North Carolina – have followed suit and released similar pictures of people who had overdosed in public to draw attention to the drug problem.

While shocking images portray the hard reality of the opioid epidemic exploding across the U.S., one would wonder if they’re effective educational tools, or if the negative stigma towards addicts is perpetuated when public shaming happens online.

According to Adam Brooks, senior scientist at the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, regardless of the circumstance, photos of unconscious individuals are a demoralizing approach to teach anyone a ‘lesson.’

“People struggling with addiction are dealing with a serious, chronic health condition that can’t be curbed through shaming,” he told the Washington Post. “Would we post a photo of someone suffering a diabetic coma because they didn’t take their medication? Absolutely not.”

Police officers aren’t the only ones posting graphic imagery. Parents have also been resorting to social media platforms like Facebook to get people to pay attention to how big of a problem addiction is.

Last month, a video of an 8-year-old boy hearing about how his mother had died of a heroin overdose was posted on Facebook by his father. The father wrote: “I had someone record this so addicts with children can see the seriousness of our epidemic.”

The video has been watched about 36 million times.

The inclusion of children in such posts is yet another problem here. Children who never asked nor agreed to be included in a public battle against addiction will have to live with such internet publicity forever, after learning how to cope with the loss of their family members and/or caretakers.

“I don’t think that is a central strategy to solve the drug problem,” said Senator Will Brownsberger, from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District of Massachusetts. “Images should be released with sensitivity regarding the individuals involved.”