Hello JMFF Family,
I will speak to this from my advisory role regarding stigma and public awareness. I think this article is very informative and tells a different side of addiction about a vulnerable population of children without a voice who need support, and thus the article should be shared. It’s critical the public be aware of this problem. In our own grief network we have quite a few mothers who have lost children that are raising their grandchildren, young beautiful kids who have been inside their own home during drug deals and unsafe conditions, dirty needles lying around, etc..
However, when it comes to the photos, I cannot condone sharing them. The entire situation with the child involved is horrific. I think that is clear. I don’t think it helps explain this issue to people who are not directly impacted. I think it continues to black and white the issue (“these people use heroin and we don’t”, “This doesn’t happen to us, only to these other people”) and confuses them. We have all spent a lot of time trying to convince the public that those struggling look, act and exist like all of us, like Jordan and Alex, and like Prince. I think you can tell that tale without shaming a family. This young child did not have a say as to whether or not his tale was told in this way. The officer who posted these photos did so on his own accord, and I feel it was a huge violation of their privacy.
Chelsea A. LaliberteExecutive Director/Cofounder, Live4Lali, Inc.
Codeveloper, Lake County Opioid Initiative
We take the advice of our panel of experts very seriously here at JMFF. For this reason, we have removed all links and photos that go along with the article.
New York Times
It was a horrific video — a young mother who had overdosed was lying unconscious on the floor of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass.
Adding a gut-wrenching kick to the scene was that the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, wearing purple footie pajamas, was tugging at her mother’s limp arm, trying to wake her up. The girl was wailing. The mother looked lifeless.
A store employee recorded the scene while waiting for medics. When they arrived, they revived the mother and took her and her daughter to a hospital. The video, which became public two days later, spread across the internet.
Sadly, the police said, the opioid epidemic in New England and elsewhere has reached such proportions that it is no longer a shock to see drug users collapse in public. In Massachusetts, more than four people a day die from drug overdoses.
What is new, they said, is that addicts are increasingly buying drugs, getting high and passing out with their children in tow.
The Lawrence police estimate that children are now present in perhaps 10 percent of the drug calls to which they respond.
“It’s just a horrifying byproduct of this opiate crisis,” said Thomas Cuddy, a special assistant to Police Chief James Fitzpatrick of Lawrence.
In New Hampshire, heroin was identified as a risk factor in 7.62 percent of investigations of child neglect this year through April, according to the state Division for Children, Youth and Families; that is up from 4.8 percent from October to December 2014.
Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services in Massachusetts, said more and more children were coming to the attention of the child welfare system as parents bought drugs or overdosed in front of them.
“Children are as much the victims of what we’re seeing in this epidemic,” she said. “It’s a poignant reminder that our interventions have to be broader than just treatment for the individual but have to include loved ones, especially children.”
In the Lawrence case, just as social media was heaping scorn on the mother who overdosed, Mandy McGowen, the video galvanized a network of mothers of drug addicts to help. Some of the mothers had rescued their own grandchildren from their parents’ drug use and were experienced at responding to crises and navigating the system. They were heartbroken for the toddler in the video and alarmed that no one had tried to help the mother. So they sprang into action.
At the same time, the video may have been the push that the mother needed to persuade her to seek help.
The story began the morning of Sept. 18, when Ms. McGowen, 36, of Salem, N.H., was driving around with a friend and sniffing fentanyl, she later told WBZ-TV in Boston. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
After picking up her daughter, Ms. McGowen went to buy diapers at the Family Dollar store in Lawrence, just over the Massachusetts border. Lawrence, an old mill town, is at the nexus of New England’s heavy drug trade.
As she was shopping in the toy aisle, Ms. McGowen collapsed and slumped to the floor on her back. Her daughter started wailing, prompting another shopper to alert a store clerk.
Employees called 911, and one began recording the scene with a cellphone.
At one point in the video, an unidentified man stepped up, called out “Mandy, Mandy” and slapped her a few times. Receiving no response, he then reached into her bag, removed a cellphone and eventually left. Otherwise, no one touched the mother or tried to comfort the daughter, who continued to cry.
The video appeared two days later on the website of... removed
“You want to draw awareness to the problem,” Mr. Cuddy said, explaining why the police had released the video.
The release followed a similar move this month by the city of East Liverpool, Ohio, which posted graphic images on its Facebook page of a couple passed out in a car with a 4-year-old in the back seat.
“It is time that the non-drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis,” East Liverpool officials wrote.
In Lawrence, medics revived Ms. McGowen with two doses of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.
Eventually, an ambulance took her and her daughter to Lawrence General Hospital.
The police alerted the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, which took emergency custody of the daughter.
The video soon popped up on Facebook, before the police and the newspaper released it. One of those who first saw it was a woman who is tangentially related to Ms. McGowen. The woman called Pamela Gani, a New Hampshire mother who is active in helping people with drug problems. Ms. Gani called Ms. McGowen.
“She broke down and said, ‘I want to die,’” Ms. Gani recalled. Ms. Gani then asked another mother, Lisa Carter, who lives near Ms. McGowen in Salem, to check on her.
“She was being evicted, she had lost her daughter and she was in pretty rough shape,” Ms. Carter said. “She’s sitting there in the candlelight, all alone, with no water, no electricity. She couldn’t even flush the toilet.”
Ms. Gani and Ms. Carter are members of an organization called Magnolia New Beginnings Inc., a volunteer charitable group made up mostly of mothers whose children are or have been involved with drugs and who support one another through the crises that inevitably arise.
“I posted to my warrior moms on Facebook that we were desperate for a detox bed,” Ms. Carter said.
By this time, the video was ricocheting across social media, and other mothers in Magnolia — which has chapters in 25 states, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts — had seen it.
“I was absolutely livid that people were sharing that video,” said Maureen Cavanagh, the founder and president of Magnolia, who lives in Massachusetts. “It perpetuates the shame and stigma of the disease.”
Ms. Cavanagh also put out the word that Ms. McGowen needed a detox bed and longer-term treatment. Dozens of mothers began calling their contacts in search of help across two states.
“We had to take measures into our own hands, because there’s no help whatsoever,” Ms. Gani said.
But no one could find an available detox bed.
Anxious for Ms. McGowen to receive medical help, Ms. Carter took her on Thursday to a hospital in Massachusetts, where people in New Hampshire often turn because their own state provides so few resources. After a day, the hospital discovered that Ms. McGowen had only New Hampshire Medicaid for insurance, which the hospital did not accept.
The hospital discharged her on Friday — the same day, Mr. Cuddy said, that the Lawrence police charged her with child endangerment.
Near despair, Ms. McGowen, who until then had not seen the video of herself, decided that she should watch it, Ms. Carter said. Ms. McGowen was feeling humiliated, embarrassed and deeply regretful, Ms. Carter said, and might have been on the brink of an intentional overdose.
But she thought watching the video would give her the resolve she needed to seek help.
Late Friday, a contact of Ms. Cavanagh’s in Massachusetts came through with a detox bed for Ms. McGowen for a week. He is also providing a bed at a treatment facility at no expense for 28 days. Intensive inpatient treatment with medical support can cost $30,000 a month.
Before Ms. McGowen went to detox, she told WBZ-TV that she wanted to get clean and regain custody of her daughter and hoped that the video would not define her life.
“It shouldn’t have happened, period,” she said. “That’s not what I want my daughter to see — her holding my hand trying to get me up and crying her eyes out.”
Ms. Carter said that the daughter was being placed in foster care, not up for adoption, on the theory that Ms. McGowen would someday be well enough to get her back.