The Boy in the Back Seat

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

By Jessica Hulsey Nickel



There is a lot of backlash and discussion over a recent photo posted by the East Liverpool, Ohio Police Department of a couple allegedly high on heroin in their car, unconscious, with a small boy in the back seat. I understand how angry some are. They are worried this photograph will increase the stigma surrounding addiction and shame people from seeking help. I also understand the questions. Were the parents offered treatment? What services are available for that little boy? Finally, I understand some of the frustration with law enforcement. What was their intention in posting this photo? Regardless of how we personally respond to the photo, I hope we can take a step back and look at this event from a point of empathy for everyone involved – the child, the parents and law enforcement-- and not just for those in this photo but for the thousands of people suffering in communities across our country.


First, we should have empathy for the parents in this photo, and for all parents suffering from addiction. Addiction is a brain disease. In a very rough summary, the brain malfunction rewires the brain to re-prioritize the basic survival priorities we as humans, as mammals, have. Now before water, food, shelter, and taking care of our young, our brain misbelieves it's the heroin, prescription drugs or other drug that is most important for survival. The drug(s) gain primacy.  For all parents out there, I hope this can be a lesson on the power and devastation of addiction. It can transplant the most dominant priority that we have as a parent-- to care for one’s children. We should feel heartbreak and compassion ---not blame--because these heartbreaking moments and photos are a symptom of a debilitating, yet treatable, disease.


And we should feel empathy for our law enforcement. Our first responders are on the front line of what is truly an epidemic --129 people dying each day of overdoses. 129 people. Every day our police, our EMTs, our