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Helping or hurting: agencies publish pictures of overdosed heroin users

Balance of privacy, compassion and impact
Posted at 9:31 PM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 21:31:56-04

Police, civic and business agencies are searching for the best approach to put the brakes on the heroin epidemic.

Some police agencies use Facebook and the media to show pictures of overdosed drug users as a way to raise awareness and highlight the drug’s impacts. It’s similar to cops showing a crashed car to hammer home a point about drunken driving. But the strategy is facing pushback.

James Bonilla’s necklace is a reminder of what life used to be like .

“I’ve done everything, I’m pretty much what they call the garbage bag. I would do whatever was there for the the weekend,” Bonilla admits to his past drug use, which included heroin.

Now, The Delray Beach man wears a necklace with the day he became sober: September 17, 2014. But not everyone has a reminder about the dangers of drugs.

“The world doesn’t take addiction as serious as a disease as they should,” Bonilla said.

To change that, some police and government agencies across the country share pictures of overdosed drug users on social media. One of two grandparents in Ohio went viral because their grandson was in the parked van with them. No one’s face was blurred out in the two pictures posted on Facebook.

I definitely think the privacy should be protected and they shouldn’t show photos of people’s faces,” said Jeff Kadel. But waking the community up to the fact that this is going on right next door is important.”

Kadel runs the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition. In a Facebook post, the organization wrote the concept of sharing pictures of overdosed people is "not a solution or a remotely effective awareness campaign."

The coalition’s mission it to raise awareness by connecting business, government and civic groups.

“Instead of posting a video, take that [overdosed] man by the hand and take him where he needs to be,” Bonilla said, adding he prefers a proactive approach.

The Delray Beach police chief said he will not publish pictures like this on his department’s social media networks.