Addict Shaming is not OK

Today there has been a picture circulating on Facebook, through major media outlets, and elsewhere. You may be wanting to say, “Yeah, yeah, as we call it around here: ‘Friday.'” This picture is something complete different and one that I refuse to share because I think it’s disgusting. This picture is of a man and a woman in a car who appear to be unconscious. There is also a young child in the back seat. The post that East Liverpool, Ohio PD shared on their Facebook page – which includes pictures of the couple unconscious in their car – indicates that the couple had apparently overdosed on heroine and allegedly drove to their son’s school to pick him up. They were eventually placed in the care of EMS and transported to the hospital after receiving “several rounds” of Narcan. The affidavit the officer wrote indicates that they may be charged with a crime but it’s not clear what that crime might be.

The picture has ignited a firestorm of debate about addiction and about whether shaming addicts is OK. Personally, I find it disgusting. Sometimes, against my better judgement, I just can’t help myself and I have to leave a comment about an article on media social media pages. When the Lexington Herald-Leader ran the story, I indicated on their post that I felt that shaming addicts was disgusting and does nothing to solve the problem. Several people have disagreed with me, as seems to be the case in such situations.

Simply, I don’t believe that it’s moral, ethical, or Christ-like for such to happen. We show a grave disregard for God’s children when we condone such actions. Perhaps as a summary of my comments and why I have come to these conclusions, I will share the final comment that I am leaving on the H-L’s post. I hope it will help to explain further why I feel like the East Liverpool PD has performed a great injustice (not to mention acting unprofessionally and unethically) by starting this.

I will respond to both of you (two people who had challenged my opinion). But first, you need to understand where I’m coming from. I’ve been a paramedic for nearly eight years and worked in a few different places both in Kentucky and Mississippi. I’m also serving as a pastor in Powell County which has one of the biggest drug problems in the nation. In short, I see it everyday. I live right in the midst of it just out my front door. I talk to people. I’ve treated people. That’s the thing: These are people, God’s children. We have to remember that.

The children should absolutely be protected. I’m not saying that one should not face consequences when they drive high or otherwise mistreat their kids. Those crimes should absolutely be dealt with. But simply locking an addict up for a while and calling it good doesn’t help. Arguments can be made that addiction is a choice but, medically and spiritually speaking, it’s a disease and should be treated as one.

Treatment, rehab, counseling, compassion, mercy… Those kinds of things are what help addicts. Parading them on Facebook does nothing to solve the problem. All it shows is a lack of regard for human dignity. The problem can only be tackled as one would tackle any disease.

The reasons one becomes an addict are varied but some things that seem common in my experience are lack of education, unemployment, and poverty. If we want to tackle the root causes of addiction we must fight those things. But I do acknowledge that only God may have the answers to those problems.

In John 8 we find an account of woman who was to be stoned for adultery. Jesus intervened and (more or less) said this: Let him without sin throw the first stone. I don’t know about anyone else but I have no right to throw stones. Yes, crimes have consequences and rightly so. But addiction does not get cured in jail. We have to show mercy and we have to actually help these people. Otherwise, we simply make it worse.

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