Yesterday a police department in Ohio released a photograph of a couple passed out in their car on the way to the hospital. The couple was going to the hospital because the female passenger, whose name I will not include here, was overdosing on heroin. The police officer who pulled the couple over did so because the male driver was swerving and driving erratically. When he stopped for the police the man proceeded to pass out as well and it was revealed that a 4-year child was in the backseat. A dangerous scenario to say the least, but what happened next was a disgusting display of the American Drug Policy and the misunderstanding that law enforcement and the general population have about drug addiction.
Once both passengers were unconscious the police proceeded to take pictures of them with the child in plain view to add to the shock value. In one photo the arm of one police officer can be seen holding up the female passenger’s head, her mouth open and eyes rolling into the back of her head. Perhaps the saddest part of this story is the fact that the charges she will face once released from the hospital were already listed. Not once during this whole debacle was the possibility of sending her to TREATMENT mentioned or offered. She and her partner are in desperate need of services. When you are at the point where you are overdosing the problem is significant enough that seeking treatment would definitely be appropriate. This point exemplifies the problem we face today with US drug policy. Instead of treating it like the public health crisis that it is, we insist on continuing to try the legal and punitive approach given that it has had such high success rates in the last 40 years. This last statement is dripping with sarcasm.
The police then released these photos online in order to bring awareness to the dangers of drug addiction and the opioid epidemic that is currently ravaging this country. This misguided and egregiously inappropriate display speaks to just how misinformed the government and its law enforcement body are about drug addiction in this country.
First, the female passenger, whose son was the 4-year child in the back, was overdosing on heroin. The news story reports that she was turning blue at the time and yet there was time to stage a photo shoot? Granted the police were waiting for EMS responders to get to the scene, but what if they were gunshot victims, would the police have stopped to take pictures then?
Second, this is sort of shaming really does nothing to open a dialogue about drug addiction in this country. As if drug addicts do not experience enough guilt and shame about the fact that they are addicted, now turning on the news and seeing this does not help. No drug addict will see these pictures and say, “Hey, what I’m doing is dangerous. I should stop.” It doesn’t work that way. All drug addicts know the risk involved in the things they do, but since they suffer from a disease that will not allow them to stop until it has ripped every inch of dignity from them, they cannot. Death therapy does not work. Showing people the horrors of drug addiction is not a deterrent, as we’ve learned from 20 years of stop smoking campaigns that have managed to not really curb the smoking habits of Americans.
These photos being released are just the latest in a long line of hate filled propaganda thrown at drug addicts in this country, which under the guise of a War on Drugs, has managed to not only alienate entire populations but has resulted in an overcrowded private prison industrial complex, which is lining the pockets of special interest groups at the expense of sick individuals.
Forty years ago a war on drugs was declared and that war failed. We were told to just say no and yet no one heeded these words because they were meaningless and not based in reality. How disengaged was Nancy Reagan when she spoke these three little words as the rallying cry for rich conservative white populations to get behind her in their effort to stamp out drug addiction. We were told that no quarter would be given to these degenerate peoples and that regardless of what medical science says, they are not sick they are bad.
We have a policy in this country to jail drug addicts, not offer them treatment unless they have the money to pay for lawyers, and if they are of a certain shade other than white, then we have to throw the book at them. How in any civilized country, I take that back, how in any country does this make sense?
President Obama helped to push through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act this summer with hopes to move away from criminalizing drug addiction and getting people the help they need, but with the elections right around the corner will this actually be something that we do. If this photo serves as a guidepost for where we are going then I’d say no.
I understand to a certain degree what these police officers were doing and I get it. Being in their position and seeing the worst of mankind day in and day out and then you happen upon a couple who have overdosed in a car with a child, you can’t help but to feel some sort of outrage, but the undertone of the photo speaks volumes about the misunderstanding of what it means to be a drug addict.
There is no doubt that what they did was irresponsible, dangerous, and that poor child should not have been subjected to it, but if those people had a choice in the matter, you can bet they would not choose to be drug addicts. What’s worse is that the police, rather than helping the child, used him as anti-drug propaganda. Imagine being that child. Your mother is passed out in the front seat and then some police officer holds her head up as someone else takes pictures and talks about God knows what. What does that do to the kid? If he wasn’t scarred from the event before, he is now?
So while I get what they were trying to do, as they put it, “give that child a voice” we have to ask ourselves, did they really give that kid a voice? Did they help him in any way, or did they just subject him to the shame of having his mother’s pictures plastered all over the country, and forever stamp him with the stigma of being a drug addict’s no good son.
We need to think in this country about the messages that we send and take a step back when it comes to our treatment of drug addicts. They are people too, and they are people who share our communities with us. Drug overdoses at this point kill between 140 to 160 people a day!!!! Let that sink in. The problem is not going away and it is not getting any better so maybe, just maybe, we should try a different approach. So are there any approaches that have proven successful on a large scale, and the answer is yes. Portugal is a perfect example of this. We need to start to talk about what is really going on and move away from shaming drug addicts like these police officers did. It never works.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.