Nearly DOA in an SUV

The police photographed the couple in the front seat of an SUV, slumped over in their seats as if shot with a rhino dart. But it wasn’t animal tranquilizers that were their problem.

It was heroin.

Wide awake and restrained in the back seat was a four-year-old boy. Even more shocking: This was only first of three such cases in a week.

The East Liverpool Ohio city government posted the photo of the couple on their Facebook page. The text accompanying the image said:

We feel it necessary to show the other side of this horrible drug. We feel we need to be a voice of the children caught up in this horrible mess.

The police were aware that the images might’ve been seen as shocking and offensive by some, and they apologized, but, said “it is time that the non-drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.” The city’s Service-safety Director said their hope for the post was to inspire people to seek help and to raise awareness of the Ohio’s devastating opioid epidemic.


Near Death

The response was immediate. The post attracted a deluge of comments and was quickly picked up by news media. Much of the reaction was critical. Many saw it as a public shaming of those who struggle with drug addiction, particularly for the decision not to obscure the adults’ faces. Had the police not revived the couple with “several rounds” of the opiate antidote drug Narcan, as was reported, the couple may not have survived. According to the police report, the woman was turning blue.

The woman, aged 50, was the child’s grandmother and had been granted legal custody only six weeks prior. She was arrested for child endangerment among other charges and has since lost custody of her grandchild. (The boy was subsequently placed with a great-aunt and uncle in South Carolina.) The driver of the vehicle, 47, was her boyfriend.

Stigmatizing Addicts

The posting of the photos brought a backlash. Many would argue that the photos would only further the dangerous stigma of addicts and addiction. Because this stigma can be so serious and harmful – “deadly,” according to The Fix – and a condition that can plague a recovering addict for a lifetime, the question needs to be asked:

Can the stigmatizing of addicts ever be appropriate?

The answer to that question must depend on what is at stake. Are children involved? What effect will the shaming have on the person seeking treatment for their addiction? Will it only push the sufferer to go deeper with their denial and resistance?

The Cons:

  • Stigma furthers shame. And shame, it could be argued, is what aided the deaths of Amy Winehouse, Robin Williams, Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and countless others not so famous. All of them struggled with addiction and relapse and because of shame, they would feel compelled to take their struggles underground. Shame, you could say, overcame them. Shame can act as a barrier to getting help; lying and hiding can be less painful. The stigma also says that addiction and dependence are weaknesses and moral failings – a flaw of character. Can’t you see that you’re destroying your life and the lives of those who care about you? What are you, crazy? The stigma, or the fear of it, only grows worse with age.
  • Stigma creates discrimination. According to an international study1, three-quarters of addiction sufferers believed that they had been ostracized by others. This led them to avoid relationships, kept them from applying for jobs, and contacting friends. This fear leads to social isolation and social isolation is the worst barrier to overcome for getting help. Isolation leaves the addict to their own destructive thinking and hopelessness. Successful recovery is a communal experience. It is crucial that the substance abuser know that they are not alone.
  • It has been argued2 that the stigma attached to addiction can actually be worse than the addiction itself.

The Pros:

  • This we know: Substance abuse and addictive behavior, whatever its causes, can lead to irresponsible behaviors: Negligent and dangerous parenting, poor work performance and ruined careers, and crimes such as theft and operating a vehicle under the influence (as did the couple above). If stigma can discourage any of these behaviors, the stigma can clearly be a good thing.The organization Mother Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) has spent big on using shame as a coercive in changing behavior. A large-scale MADD campaign being waged against DWI suspects and lenient judges was recently discovered in New Mexico. (This, too, has been controversial.)
  • Public shaming has a history that goes back to the stocks, pillories, and scarlet letters of ancient times. Whether it is an effective deterrent or not has been hard to prove. Judges have experimented with the idea: A judge in Los Angeles claimed his shaming punishments had positive effects.
  • Alcoholic Anonymous is a shame-based method – Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol... AA has no doubt helped many and many swear by the power of the meetings. Evidence supporting such effectiveness is “controversial and subject to widely divergent interpretations.”3 Research has found that attendance in meetings has an effect on subsequent abstinence. It is also true that AA has high drop-out rates.Television shows like “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” also use shame and embarrassment as motivations for getting sober.So then, can shame serve as an effective motivator?In the case of the Ohio couple, within three days the Facebook post featuring their pictures had almost 40,000 shares and 10,000 comments. This could be an extreme case of using shame as motivation. Whether it works for them or not remains to be seen, but for most addicts, being ready for change must happen before recovery. But it doesn’t have to come from within: Studies show that coercing addicts into recovery, through legal means or family pressure, can have outcomes as successful as those who go into it on their own volition4.

What makes some people succeed at recovery while others don’t? Why do some have to go through treatment multiple times before achieving a lifetime of sobriety? The truth is, nobody knows. But one point remains: Addiction causes physiological changes to the addict; their brain is changed and disordered. And there are many who suffer: 10 percent of all adults in the United States consider themselves in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse. Fortunately, addiction is an entirely treatable disease.

The ways people get themselves into recovery are multitude – the main thing is that they get there. Here’s hoping that the Ohio couple manage to find a way of their own.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.



When Is It Okay to Stigmatize Addicts?