First responders saved a couple who had overdosed on heroin in East Liverpool by administering Narcan, an opiate antidote. In northeast Ohio, cases like this are becoming a routine occurrence.
What wasn’t routine was that the East Liverpool police posted an image of the overdosing couple on Facebook, with the four-year-old buckled into his car seat behind them. The shocking nature of the image caused it to go viral.
More than 4,000 people commented on the post, and several news outlets picked up the image.
The police department wanted to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic in the region. According to the Ohio Department of Health, opioid overdoses killed over 3,000 people in Ohio last year.
While some praised the police for posting the picture, others condemned their actions as publicly shaming those addicted to drugs. Using shame to change behavior doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, Maia Szalavitz, a journalist who covers science and addiction says it makes it worse.
“Shame is particularly harmful to people who struggle with drug addiction because it sends this message that the person is worthless,” Szalavitz said. “It cuts the social support drug users need to recover and stay clean.”
Drug addiction is a disease, not a criminal justice problem. The idea that people can be scared straight has been proven wrong by the millions of people who leave prison and continue to use drugs.
Because an addiction is a compulsive act, people who use aren’t deterred by negative consequences. Their desire to get high is placed over everything else.
Blasting a picture of an overdosed couple on social media isn’t going to push them to seek treatment.
A 2007 study by addiction researchers William White and William Miller found that offenders with substance abuse disorders were more likely to relapse when they underwent forms of therapy incorporating guilt and shame.
Shame can make an addict feel worthless, and many who abuse drugs use drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with negative feelings. There are better ways to help.
Medicinal and behavioral treatments are available, and drug-abuse.org says they’re most effective when combined.
There are drugs available that block users from feeling high when they take opiates, which can relieve cravings.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people with addiction problems how to develop healthier coping strategies and letting them know what to expect while in the process of quitting opiates.
People who need help can contact local resources like OhioCAN Mahoning County, an organization that educates people on heroin use and helps people through recovery.
The East Liverpool police were right about one thing: there has to be a way to decrease the number of heroin deaths in this region. Narcan has been effective in preventing death, but we still need to mitigate addiction. One thing is clear, trying to scare addicts straight by making an example of a couple at the lowest point in their lives isn’t the way to go about it.
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