Yes, there's a drug problem, but does this child deserve to be the face of it?

In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, file photo, released by the East Liverpool Police Department, a young child sits in a vehicle behind his grandmother, Rhonda Pasek and her boyfriend, James Acord, both of whom are unconscious from a drug overdose, in East Liverpool, Ohio. The police department released the photo un-blurred, but The Daily Campus blurred it in conjunction with our policy on children. (East Liverpool Police Department via AP)

On September 8, 2016, the city of East Liverpool, Ohio’s Facebook page shared a few shocking photos to display the effect heroin has on innocent people. The picture came from the city Police department, when a police officer observed a car as he was driving to work. Police Officer Kevin Thomas approached the driver, who had stopped for a bus, then pulled away slowly and came to a stop on a steep hill soon after. The driver, James Accord, was almost unintelligible and his head was bobbing. Accord said that he was bringing his passenger, Rhonda Pasek, to the hospital when he passed out. There was a four year old in the back seat.

The city released pictures of the two adults, Pasek and Accord, passed out in the front seat with the child in the back. Police administrators mentioned a concern for the child in the picture, but claimed that the benefits of raising awareness about the dangers of heroin outweighed that concern. The release of these pictures is completely understandable; the city was trying to protect and warn its citizens about the dangers of heroin.  It is important for a city to do everything in its power to keep its citizens safe. However, there were still some aspects of safety that East Liverpool did not take into account. For these oversights, the city should apologize and learn from its mistakes.

The main problem with these pictures is the fact that the four-year-old sitting in the back seat has his face completely exposed to the camera. Before publishing this picture, the police administrators expressed concern for the effect this would have on the child, yet they decided against blurring his face. This experience must have been traumatizing for the child to go through, and due to publicity, these pictures will follow him as he grows up. The original Facebook post has over 28,000 shares and over 5,000 comments. Students and teachers at his schools will recognize him from this tragedy and know about a scarring experience that should not be known publicly.

The city of East Liverpool also released these pictures on Facebook along with a warning for graphic content. However, on some screens, the warning is displayed at the same time as the pictures, so it does not prevent viewers who are sensitive to this content from seeing the disturbing photos.

Nevertheless, East Liverpool had good intentions when releasing these photographs. Ohio is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, and city officials are trying to address a problem which they face daily. In 2015, drug overdoses killed a record 3,050 people in the state, 20.5 percent more than in 2014. With those numbers, it is understandable why city officials are willing to release graphic pictures with the possibility of saving lives.

This incident has sparked a lot of debate about whether or not this will have any positive impact. However, the vast media attention alone has achieved East Liverpool’s goal to raise awareness by initiating an important conversation about drug policy and the rising number of heroin related deaths across the country. These photographs might not impact other heroin users about to take the drug while having children in their care, like the post originally mentions, but it has undeniably aided the epidemic through public awareness.

The city of East Liverpool did not thoroughly think this post through. The main priority of a city should be its citizens’ safety, and East Liverpool did not fully consider this. The city should change the pictures to protect the young boy’s identity, and they should set the settings to hide the pictures until viewers confirm that they are okay with seeing graphic content. However, their intentions were to make something positive from this tragic situation, and they did not fail.


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.