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PROVIDENCE, RI-  In September of 2016, as Facebook and Twitter push global information at alarming speeds,

one image

in particular holds the nuances of a complex problem: opioids.

The photo itself is not for the faint of heart, initially posted under caption “Warning Graphic Content!” It pictures a driver, James Passek, head tilted back and mouth ajar, one hand still firm in its grip on the steering wheel. Next to him, Rhonda Passek is sprawled across the passenger seat, eyes halfway open yet still looking no more alive than her partner. The most disturbing part— a four year old boy in the backseat, fully conscious and staring directly at the camera.

Warning: Graphic image below

 The Passek parents passed out on Heroin - as Officer                                       Thompson found them. Rhonda Passek's 4 year-old son is                               pictured in the backseat. 

Taken by the East Liverpool police officers who attempted to pull the couple over for erratic driving, the photo became viral nearly instantly. Though the small Ohio town was no stranger to drug abusers and overdoses, this scene chilled even them, provoking them to share it with others in hopes to finally confront the epidemic headon. “We are well aware that some may be offended by these images,” the East Liverpool Police Departments writes in its Facebook post, “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.”

And offend as it did, the image quickly escaped the confines of social media, finding news and national outlets as well. Headlines regarding the story were plastered over Huffington Post, US Newsweek, NBC News, and so one. Even TIME produced a video and editorial that sought to give the “story behind the photos.” Yet still, there feels to be a question that begs asking: If the child was not in the car, would the nation have reacted in the same way? After all, there are plenty of other photos, all with similar content, circulating the internet. And given that in 2015, Ohio has become the national leader of opioid related deaths, the overdose itself may strike many as unsurprising. So aside from the emotional turbulence of placing a child among the sight, is there really anything newsworthy here?The answer, I believe, is yes. There is no doubt that the child being pictured ignited a sort of roaring, national empathy, though it became something more. Initially identified as a heroine overdose, the problem itself might have been (unfortunately) run of the mill for the East Liverpool police. In the months following the picture’s posting, however, the veil around the event slowly unravelled.

The Police Report written by Officer Kevin Thompson of the East Liverpool Police Department, detailing the encounter and rescue of the Passek parents. 

Heroin is an opioid synthesized from morphine, a common prescription painkiller. This past year, it was responsible for approximate

ly 15,000 deaths alone. Though dangerous as it has been (and continues to be), it was not the drug upon which other news sources have decided to harp. It was instead fentanyl, a drug with a potency 50 to 100 times that of heroine, and far more clandestine nature. In many ways this is the disillusionment that the story provides. Rhonda Pasek and James Accord represent not the grim plateau of a serious problem, but instead it's dangerous escalation.

Fentanyl is not necessarily novel to the US drug market, though its recent surge in popularity is. Last year the Wall Street Journal named it as the chief emerging drug in many parts of the country. Within the past decade, it was commonly used to cut with heroin in order to boost its potency. Even then, the amounts used were often trace. Now, however, fentanyl is being manufactured and sold standalone, for the fact that its strength highly increased profit margins for drug traffickers; and it is a problem for more than just the citizens of East Liverpool.

According to DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne, the drug is in fact surging in places that have seen heavy opioid abuse in the past— West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Kentucky, Rhode Island, etc. Unlike heroin, however, the impact has little isolation. More often than not, the powder, given the street name of China White, is in capsule form and sold under the guise of common painkillers such as Oxycontin. In other cases it can be mixed with cocaine as a sort of hyper potent speedball. Still no matter its form, one thing holds constant: you often don’t know what you’re taking. According to Newsweek, experts assert that fentanyl overdoses often occur after users took what they believed to be genuine prescription pills, cocaine, etc., but are instead hit with something 50 times stronger.

What’s even more terrifying, the drug can affect someone just through physical contact. It is then not just the heroin (or even opioid) addicts who are at risk from the fentanyl crisis, but rather nearly every drug user, as well as those who operate in proximity to them. This extends to any environment where painkillers, cocaine, and even MDMA find market, including (ber certainly not limited to) high schools and universities across the nation. Though the high school heroin addict may be a rare event, prescription drugs and other “less hard” substances run rampant in academic environments, often without second thought as to how authentic the substances are.

Whether a “junkie,” or a student, or even a CEO, there will be people who come to substance for a desired high or escape. Though illegal, it is generally agreed upon that satisfying this urge should not be punishable by death. But with the constant advancement of fentanyl into the US drug trade, especially disguised as other, more commercial drugs, this becomes more of the case, requiring an even deeper commitment to personal responsibility, no matter how at risk you may think you are. “It can go so much farther than heroin,” Payne says, “and the traffickers are starting to figure this out.”


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