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The images are both repellent and captivating: men and women, often with children in their care, passed out from drug overdoses in near-death moments captured just after cops arrive at the scene. In another era, they might have only appeared in tabloid newspapers, like the work of street photographer Weegee. Instead, they catch fire first on social media, rocketing across the internet and turning what would have been an anonymous, small-town tragedy into a public spectacle. Police chiefs who've distributed the photos in recent months — in Ohio, Massachusetts and Indiana — say they had no intention of making the images go viral.
Their sole goal, they say, was to get residents of their own communities to recognize that they were not immune from America's opioid epidemic. But the photos have opened a new front in the drug battle, with addiction experts and some criminal justice researchers saying the photos violate people's privacy and fuel the shame and stigma that keeps addicts from seeking help — and push the problem into the shadows. The distribution of the photos, Pointer said, reflects and perpetuates misunderstandings of how addiction works.
Related: Education or Humiliation? It's something that has happened and they're trying to get over it. The addiction sometimes creeps up on us, and we're not in control in that moment. It's like having an out-of-body experience. The whole time you're feeling total regret. That, he said, helps to explain what to many seems unforgivable: people getting high around children.
Lindsey LaSalle, a senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, said she understands the desire among police to spread word about the crisis. But she said there are more effective ways to do it: collecting and sharing data on overdose deaths, and finding addicts and families willing to talk publicly about their ordeals.
Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, said the departments that distribute overdose photos "are coming from the right place, and have good intentions, and are trying to get people to understand how serious this is. Such a tactic can be "a good way to reach people who don't believe that's something to care about in their community," he added.
But police must also anticipate how the community might react to the photos, Bueermann said. If there is a relative lack of sensitivity among locals, then police risk fueling backlashes against the overdose victims, in which people call for them to go to jail and for their children to be taken away from them. Jim O'Neill, the police chief of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, said his message in releasing such photos is clear: "We want to raise awareness and make sure people understand that this kind of thing is around.
Last week, his department posted a picture on Facebook of a man passed out at the wheel of a car. Some praised the move, while others accused the police of using shaming tactics. O'Neill said he stands by the move, and believes it served its purpose.
Police gave a similar explanation in Hope, Indiana, after they distributed a picture in late October of a young woman passed out in a car with her month-old son in the back. Her mother said she received hate messages. The police chief said he was surprised by the backlash, but did not regret the photo.
A month earlier, police in East Liverpool, Ohio, posted on Facebook photos of a woman and her friend unconscious in a car with her 4-year-old grandson in the back. The story went viral, and the woman's sister accused police of humiliating her and the boy. A city official was unapologetic, saying the public needed to see the damage heroin does to families. Also in September, police in Lawrence, Massachusetts, gave the media copies of video showing a mother passed out in a Family Dollar store while her young daughter tried to wake her.
The police chief told a local NBC affiliate that the footage was "evidence that shows what addiction can do to someone. In each of the cases, the overdose victim was revived. In some, they were also charged with crimes. Some were directed into drug treatment as well. That is why the Police Executive Research Forum, which advises law enforcement agencies on emerging criminal justice issues, recommends against distributing overdose images — for the same reasons it urges caution on the distribution of body cam footage.
So why would we want to show pictures of those persons who, as the result of an addiction, are at their most vulnerable? IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser. Hispanic Heritage Month U. Share this —.
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