Images of Drug Overdoses in the Media: Do They Further Awareness, or Add to the Stigma of Addiction?

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Images of Drug Overdoses in the Media: Do They Further Awareness, or Add to the Stigma of Addiction?

Perhaps you’ve noticed – there’s been a rash of drug overdose images in the media of late – both photos and videos. Many of these are coming from police departments, intended to raise awareness about the prevalence of drug use (heroin in particular) and how affects people, their loved ones, and communities of all sizes and demographics.

Many of these videos and images are going viral, and certainly, do punctuate the seriousness of the problem. But are these images merely invoking awareness, or are they adding to the stigma of addiction?

stigma of addiction | Just Believe RecoveryConsider this instance in Lawrence, Massachusetts – law enforcement recently released a horrifying video of a collapsed woman on the floor of a New Hampshire Family Dollar.

The woman’s two-year-old was also present, crying and attempting to wake her. This video was filmed by a store employee, but it was police who released the footage on media.

Fortunately, the woman, 36, survived after being given the anti-overdose drug naloxone. Unfortunately, she was subsequently charged with child endangerment, and her daughter was taken into custody by the Department of Children and Families.

She later spoke to a television station in Boston and admitted to snorting fentanyl before picking up her daughter by car.

Essex County Police Chief Peter Silva:

“If the concept is that they want to make the most effect on people and show what’s truly happening out there certainly there may be a benefit. But I think it’s a case-by-case situation.”

“You’re out in the public, you know that you’re in a place where the public has the right of access. The public does have cameras, there are public cameras every place you go.”

Actions such as this, however, can result in serious privacy issues. Moreover, while Massachusetts officers blurred the face of the child in the video before they released it, on September 8, an East Liverpool, Ohio police department failed to do the same.

stigma of addiction | Just Believe Recovery
Shouldn’t children ALWAYS have a right to privacy?

Police posted an image on their Facebook page of a shocked and distressed 4-year-old boy sitting in the back of a vehicle.

The child’s grandmother and another man, who had been driving, sat unresponsive in the front seat, victims of a heroin overdose.

As a result, 6,000 comments rolled in, some wondering why the image was posted, and others very concerned that the child’s face wasn’t blurred and that he could be identified.

Police Chief John said he made the executive decision to post the untouched images, but only after the pair were saved using naloxone and taken to a hospital:

“I discussed with the mayor and the safety-service director. It wasn’t something I did without thinking. When we took face out of there, you lost the impact of it..”

Indeed, images such as do reveal that children are often victims of addiction as well.

Lane also said that the child’s safety was comprised and that this was another factor in favor of the unblurred release of the images. Especially considering that the woman was his custodial grandparent:

“She wasn’t thinking about him. 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.”

The boy placed in the home of his great aunt and uncle in South Carolina. The grandmother was arrested on charges of child endangerment in addition to other offenses. She was sentenced to 180 days after pleading no contest.

Promoting A View of Reality Or Perpetuating the Stigma of Addiction?

stigma of addiction | Just Believe RecoveryThese shocking images certainly reveal a terrifying reality – the opioid epidemic in the U.S. took a record number 33,000+ lives in 2015, and that number is expected to rise for 2016.

But are they truly educational and helpful? Or are these just cases of public shaming that add to the stigma of addiction?

Moreover, are these people going to be given access to help, or are they going to continue using after their humiliation, and this time, maybe they aren’t as concerned if they wake up or not?

I say this because such public shaming in other forms such as bullying on social media has led to more than one suicide. I’m not saying that putting a child in danger is right. What I am saying is, is the child really better off for the parent being shamed in public? Is the parent? I don’t think it takes 10,000,000 views to get child services involved in these matters.

Adam Brooks, senior scientist, Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia:

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

He has a point. Apply to this to a situation where a child was present, and still, it would be pretty unlikely that this person would be charged child endangerment. And the inclusion of children in these images should be an issue of both legality and privacy – particularly those who did not agree for these videos and photos to be released, regardless of whether they are blurred on not.

stigma of addiction | Just Believe RecoveryChildren should have that right. The release of these images allow them zero privacy, and they are forever forced to be part of an Internet meme seen by what could be millions of people.

And I think the same is true for adults, although admittedly, they are not protected from photographic scrutiny in public places.

As Brooks said, addiction is a disease. I’m worried about those who continue to treat the behavior of addicts as a moral flaw set apart from their condition, and not as a direct symptom of a terrible disease for which no one asks.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

References For Stigma Of Addiction

Quotes were retrieved from 

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