Moving from the back seat to the front seat

In this blog, “we” refers broadly to society.

In 2016 police officers posted photos on social media of two adults who were unconscious from a non-fatal opioid overdose in the front seat of their vehicle with the woman’s four-year-old grandson in the back seat (the four-year-old’s grandmother had been caring for him because of his parents’ own substance use disorders).[1]

Anger and outrage are common and understandable responses toward the adults.  At the same time, we feel both heartache and compassion toward the child.

There are a few questions these photos raise for me:

  1. How were the police officers impacted when they came across this scene, especially considering the cumulative effects of what they are exposed to in their profession?
  2. How did the viral social media post and subsequent media coverage impact the two adults?

But the biggest question I have been preoccupied with is “when will we lose compassion and understanding for the four-year-old?”  Posed another way, “when will anger and outrage replace the compassion we feel towards him now?”

With the myriad of genetic and environmental risk factors enveloping this 4-year-old, it will not be surprising if one day he moves to the front seat, with another child replacing him in the back seat (note to reader: do not limit the variety of ways this dynamic could manifest in the future).  If this happens, I imagine he will be viewed similarly to the two adults in the photos.  And I find this interesting.  Interesting that there is a line and when that line is crossed, we lose the ability to see the four-year-old in the back seat. These blind spots impact policies and practices.

What will the next 30 years be like for the four-year-old in this photo or for the other 2.2 million children who are estimated to have been impacted by the latest opioid crisis.[2]  What is being done for them?  If we fail to make their needs a priority today, are we not ourselves contributing to the conditions that end with outrage around a social media post of active addiction?

[1] (2016). The awful life of the boy in the ‘heroin overdose’ photo taken by US police.; Siemaszko, C. (2016). Woman in Viral Heroin Overdose Photo Sentenced, NBC News, September 15, 2016

[2] Brundage, S. C., Fitfield, A., & Partridge, L. (2019). The Ripple Effect: National and State Estimates of the U.S. Opioid Epidemic’s Impact on Children. United Hospital Fund, New York, NY.

3 thoughts on “Moving from the back seat to the front seat

  1. This is such a good and important question: “But the biggest question I have been preoccupied with is ‘when will we lose compassion and understanding for the four-year-old?'”


  2. Chris, there is no doubt in my mind that the only way that all three people in your example live a healthier life is through treatment and compassion. Jails and institutions will not solve anything, punishment will not make anyone better.


Comments are closed.