Controversy after city posts pictures of allegedly heroin-overdosed adults to Facebook

Technically Incorrect: East Liverpool, Ohio wants to do something about its local heroin epidemic. It posts a picture of adults passed out in a car -- with a child in the back seat.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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One of the images posted. (Image has been altered by CNET to obscure boy's face.)

East Liverpool/Facebook screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's not often that public officials post something to Facebook with the headline: "Warning Graphic Content!"

On Thursday, however, the city of East Liverpool, Ohio, posted two images that shocked many.

The pictures, allegedly taken on Wednesday, appeared to show two adults -- one male, one female -- passed out in a car, while a small child sat in the back seat.

Accompanying the pictures was a police report describing the circumstances that led up to these pictures being taken.

These included the car allegedly being driven erratically and the driver allegedly passing out while a police officer was talking to him.

The city explained that it understood the pictures would upset some people. It said that the two adults had overdosed on heroin.

"We feel it necessary to show the other side of this horrible drug," the post said. "We feel we need to be a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess. This child can't speak for himself but we are hopeful his story can convince another user to think twice about injecting this poison while having a child in their custody."

The post has already been shared more than 26,000 times and received more than 10,000 "likes."

Brian Allen, the city's director of public service and safety told the Washington Post that the pictures were the subject of a public records request from a local TV station.

Subsequent to this, officials -- some from the city's legal department -- met and decided to release the photos.

The local Morning Journal reports that the 47-year-old man was charged with driving under the influence and endangering children. He pleaded no contest and received a 180-day sentence.

The 50-year-old woman was charged with endangering children, disorderly conduct and a passenger seat-belt violation. She pleaded not guilty.

It's unclear whether they are the child's parents.

The city of East Liverpool didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

While many on Facebook praised the decision to release the images, some expressed concern. These revolved around privacy.

"u should be more worried about actually getting ppl help, then ridiculing their family, families are the biggest victims of drug abuse, u posted the ppls name and pictures of their kid," said Jesse Halley.

Selena Weaver echoed this sentiment: "The kid is 4 years old! His picture being broadcast is the problem here?! Are you F N kidding me? There isn't privacy of people's pictures anymore, that all went out the window when FB and Instagram came out."

Perhaps privacy went out of the window because people decided to use Facebook and Instagram in the way that they do.

Social media is so easy and instant that one can capture and shame with just a few clicks.

The question debated by some is whether the images will, in fact, create awareness and encourage people to become more educated about this serious problem.

Last year, reports the Columbus Dispatch, eight people each day died from drug overdoses in Ohio.

But can Facebook-shaming do something to prevent that number from getting worse? Or are the issues far deeper and wider than social media can ever embrace?