Police in East Liverpool, Ohio, posted two graphic photos on Facebook showing a couple overdosing on drugs in the front seat of a car while a 4-year-old child sits in the backseat.
“We feel it necessary to show the other side of this horrible drug. We feel we need to be a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess,” the post states. “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 4-year-old pictured was listed as the child of the female passenger in the car, Rhonda Pasek, in the official police report. However, a spokesman for the East Liverpool police confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he is actually her grandchild.
The child has since been placed in the care of his great-aunt and great uncle, who live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, an attorney representing the child's great grandparents told NBC News.
The post notes that making the photos public was a joint decision of the city administration, law director, and police department.
According to the police report, which was also posted on Facebook, East Liverpool Police Officer Kevin Thompson responded on Wednesday to a report of a Ford Explorer with a West Virginia license plate “driving very erratic weaving back and forth” before skidding to a stop in the middle of the road behind a school bus in the process of letting children off.
Thompson wrote that that driver, identified as James Acord, was speaking unintelligibly, his head was bobbing up and down, and eventually became unconscious during the stop. Pasek was completely unconscious and “turning blue” the officer said.
Inside the car, police found a “yellow folded up piece of paper” between Pasek’s legs containing a “small amount of a pink powdery substance.”
Thompson said he called for an ambulance and the emergency personnel who responded were able to administer Narcan, which is commonly used to reverse an opiate overdose, to Acord and Pasek. The couple regained consciousness and were transported to the East Liverpool Police Department.
Acord and Pasek were charged with endangering children, stopping in a roadway, and public intoxication. The child was taken into the custody of Columbiana County Children's Services.
An East Liverpool city official told BuzzFeed News that Acord pleaded guilty on Thursday and was sentenced to 180 days on two charges, to run consecutively. Pasek's case is still pending.
The decision to post the images on Facebook elicited mixed reaction. Some criticized city officials for not blurring the face of the child (BuzzFeed News has blacked out his face for this story). Others praised the city for releasing the photos to the public and driving awareness to the growing epidemic of drug overdoses in the state of Ohio.
“We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time that the non drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis," officials said in the post. "The poison known as heroin has taken a strong grip on many communities not just ours, the difference is we are willing to fight this problem until it's gone and if that means we offend a few people along the way we are prepared to deal with that."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, meanwhile, expressed his support for posting the photos.
"Tragically, these scenes are not that unusual. The face of substance abuse, particularly heroin, is as familiar as the faces of our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends," he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Families are being torn apart in Ohio by heroin, and, as shown in these images, innocent children are the victims."
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the photos do not violate community standards.
An official from the East Liverpool Office of Public Service and Safety says they spent hours Thursday debating the decision to release the photos.
Brian Allen, director of Public Service and Safety, said that after Acord's court appearance Thursday, local media requested the documents in the case, including the photos.
"We debated long and hard whether we were going to release them to them," Allen told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
He said that the Law Department advised that if the city was going to release the photos, "they were going to be raw."
Allen said that since the incident on Wednesday, there have been two other heroin overdoses in the city, another heroin-related arrest, and a police raid on a house where the drug was also found.