An Ohio police department has posted to Facebook (FB) photographs of a 4-year-old boy sitting in the backseat of a car with his mother and a man overdosed in the front seats, saying the public needed to see the impact heroin is having on communities and the children of addicts.
The East Liverpool Police Department, in a posting late Thursday, said it anticipated there would be criticism of its decision to publicly release the photos, but added that “it is time that the non drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”
“The poison known as heroin has taken a strong grip on many communities not just ours, the difference is we are willing to fight this problem until it’s gone and if that means we offend a few people along the way we are prepared to deal with that,” the department said.
An operator at the police department confirmed the agency posted the photos. East Liverpool is located in a corner of Ohio that borders West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Ohio has been among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. Last year, 3,050 people in the state died of unintentional drug overdoses — a record amount and a 20 percent increase from the year prior. The state has also experienced several mass overdoses recently in which hundreds of people overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl.
As of early Friday afternoon, there were more than 2,000 comments on the posting.
Some praised the police for publishing the photo on the ground that it was important to spread public awareness of the human impact of opioid addiction. Others criticized the police department, saying it was publicly shaming the couple pictured and further stigmatizing drug users.
People were also upset that the child’s image was not blurred, complaining that an innocent victim in the case was being exploited. (STAT has blurred the image.)
The child pictured in the image was the son of the woman passed out in the front, according to police. The relationship of the man to the woman and child was not specified.
Police said they began following the car after an officer noticed it was being driven erratically. At one point, it was behind a school bus. When the bus stopped to let off children, the vehicle skidded to a stop behind it. The male driver, James Accord, told an officer he was trying to get the female passenger, Rhonda Pasek, to the hospital. The driver then fell unconscious, according to the police report. Both adults received several rounds of the opioid antidote Narcan and regained consciousness, according to the report, and then were transported to a local hospital for evaluation.
The child was taken by child services. Both adults were charged with endangering a child.