Why We Should Share Photos of Heroin’s Effects

Why We Should Share Photos of Heroin’s Effects
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In a recent CNN article, author Emanuella Grinberg discusses a photo shared on the Facebook page of the Liverpool, Ohio police. It shows a man and woman slumped over the dashboard of their car, passed out from a heroin overdose, their grandson sitting in back. Traffic officials stopped the couple after their car was weaving in traffic; the driver said he was taking the woman to the hospital, then passed out himself.

Police said they wanted to show the heroin epidemic they confront on a daily basis, and publicize the harm to children. Grinberg argues that sharing photos of addicts is counter-productive. She cites experts who say this reinforces a stigma around drug addiction and shames addicts instead of encouraging them to seek help. She cites one study suggesting that anti-drug public service announcements (PSAs) might even spark curiosity among young people about heroine.

But these are not PSAs. They are nightmarish images showing the reality of heroin use. They’re important for the people who are considering trying heroin, and for communities to get a sense of the epidemic our country is facing. Heroin use recently hit a 20-year high, according to a United Nations global drug report. There were a million heroin users in the U.S. in 2014 – three times higher than 2003. Deaths have risen five-fold since 2000.

In 2014, I found myself standing on the altar in my grandmother’s church singing the hymn “You are Mine” with my mother and younger sister. I was trying very hard to make sure my voice wouldn’t crack from sadness. I was singing at the funeral of my 21-year-old cousin Dylan, who died from a heroin overdose.

As someone personally affected by a heroin overdose, I disagree with Ms. Grinberg. No one should feel curious about the effects of heroin after seeing these appalling photos. Consider the war on cigarette use: Over the years we have seen shocking ads featuring cancer patients that clearly show what happens when you smoke, and they’ve worked.

They are one reason smoking in the U.S. has dropped from 42 percent of the population to about 18 percent over the last 50 years.

D.A.R.E. programs, now in three-quarters of schools, have also helped kids steer clear of smoking. I took D.A.R.E. classes growing up, but no one ever covered heroin use. It’s time to start. Show young people pictures of users out of control because they decided to shoot up once and couldn’t stop. Let them know that it’s not “those other people” who try heroin and lose their lives. It’s their peers, their neighbors, the straight-A student who got a full ride to college. Anyone can quickly become dependent on heroin, because it’s one of the most addictive drugs.

Dylan was 21 when he died. He had completed rehab and was eight months sober when he relapsed. Maybe Dylan might still be alive if we had started a healthy conversation about heroin years ago. Ms. Grinberg makes an important point about addiction: It is a chronic brain disease and people cannot just stop using. That’s just another reason to share powerful photos and talk about our own experiences -- a step in the right direction toward preventing addiction in the first place. Then maybe another 17-year-old girl won’t have to hold back her tears when singing goodbye to her cousin.

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