More parents are taking drugs while children watch, and the viral videos are 'shaming' addicts

Police and drug activist support groups strongly disagree on the use and purpose of 'shaming' addicts in videos and photos

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The Independent US

Few people could likely forget the photo. 

Two adults, a grandmother and her boyfriend, slumped over in the front seats of their car, while a four-year-old grandchild sits in the back, staring blankly out the window.

Their car had been stopped from crashing into a primary school bus by an off-duty police officer.

While the adults were charged with child endangerment and are awaiting trial, the photo of their possible overdose has gone viral, prompting strong criticism and shaming of their ability to look after a child.

Brian Allen, director of public service and safety at East Liverpool police in Ohio, where the adults are in custody, told The Independent that the response to their photo has been "phenomenal".

"The photo shined a light on a problem that we fight every day," he said.

"One of our hopes in releasing that photograph was the addict when sober may think twice about shooting up when the kids are there, and will at least put them in custody of a sober person."

The couple, James Acord and Rhonda Hasek, will have a "full drug treatment programme" available to them, according to Mr Allen.

“We all agree upon one thing and it’s quite simple - the child should not be in that situation. The child is no longer in that situation now.”

The one incident in Ohio exposes polarised opinions surrounding an epidemic of drug addiction in the US.

Drug addiction support groups have claimed these viral videos and photographs highlight a desperate need for addicts to get help and should not be used to shame people.

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Kelli Pierson, director of family support and administrator of The Addict’s Mom, a support group that started nine years ago in Florida, said the emphasis should have been more on the couple that needed drug treatment rather than just on the child.

"There could have been a parent in the back seat of that car, or a social worker, or there could have been nobody," she said. "We need to focus on getting people help, rather than in jail."

But the scenario has played out countless times, and not just in East Liverpool, Ohio.

A photo of a female police officer comforting a little girl in Birmingham, Alabama, after her parents were found dead and unconscious, went viral. The one-month baby girl had a seven-year-old sister, and two brothers aged three and two.

Another video in Alabama showed a mother and her boyfriend convulsing and twitching on their front porch after an overdose, unresponsive to their child’s cries.

In Lawrence, Massachusetts, a viral video showed 36-year-old Mandy McGowen lying unconscious in a supermarket aisle while her toddler tried to wake her up. Ms McGowen had sniffed fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller than is about 50 times stronger than heroin.

She told WBZ-TV that she wanted to get clean and regain custody of her daughter. She did not want the video to define her life.

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In Massachusetts, four people die per day of drug overdoses, and the Lawrence police report that children are now involved in around 10 per cent of cases relating to drugs.

In the three cases above, the children were removed from the adults’ custody.

Jim Peake, founder of online community group Parents of Drug Addicts, said the one thing missing from drug addiction treatment was empathy.

“There is very little of it,” he said. “For the addict or their families.”

He said the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. 

In New Hampshire, heroin was identified as a risk factor of 7.62 per cent of child neglect cases in 2016 until April. The figure is up from 4.8 per cent from October to December 2014, according to the state division for children, youth and families, as reported by the New York Times.

Mr Peake questioned the use of social media to raise awareness of the issue. He described the videos as morbid curiosity, like when drivers slow down to look at a car accident.

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"People do post those things [videos] occasionally on my group’s page and I take them down because they add no value to the community of the group," he said. 

"People are looking for help, not how many overdoses we have this week in our city or state."

Ms Pierson, of The Addict's Mom, insisted that drug addicts should be treated with respect as human beings. 

Her 42-year-old son has just celebrated his 43rd day in recovery, after a decade of heroin, meth and opioid abuse. 

"The most damaging three words a parent can say are: ‘Not my child’," she said.

"It can happen in any family."

She talked to her son this week on Skype and was delighted by his improvement.

"I noticed a change in his voice. When he smiled, his eyes lit up. He smiled with his whole face."