By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, SEPT. 27, 2016
It was a horrific video — a young mother who had overdosed was lying unconscious on the floor of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass.
Adding a gut-wrenching kick to the scene was that the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, wearing purple footie pajamas, was tugging at her mother’s limp arm, trying to wake her up. The girl was wailing. The mother looked lifeless.
A store employee recorded the scene while waiting for medics. When they arrived, they revived the mother and took her and her daughter to a hospital. The video, which became public two days later, spread across the internet.
Sadly, the police said, the opioid epidemic in New England and elsewhere has reached such proportions that it is no longer a shock to see drug users collapse in public. In Massachusetts, more than four people a day die from drug overdoses.
What is new, they said, is that addicts are increasingly buying drugs, getting high and passing out with their children in tow.
The Lawrence police estimate that children are now present in perhaps 10 percent of the drug calls to which they respond.
“It’s just a horrifying byproduct of this opiate crisis,” said Thomas Cuddy, a special assistant to Police Chief James Fitzpatrick of Lawrence.
In New Hampshire, heroin was identified as a risk factor in 7.62 percent of investigations of child neglect this year through April, according to the state Division for Children, Youth and Families; that is up from 4.8 percent from October to December 2014.
Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services in Massachusetts, said more and more children were coming to the attention of the child welfare system as parents bought drugs or overdosed in front of them.
“Children are as much the victims of what we’re seeing in this epidemic,” she said. “It’s a poignant reminder that our interventions have to be broader than just treatment for the individual but have to include loved ones, especially children.”
In the Lawrence case, just as social media was heaping scorn on the mother who overdosed, Mandy McGowen, the video galvanized a network of mothers of drug addicts to help. Some of the mothers had rescued their own grandchildren from their parents’ drug use and were experienced at responding to crises and navigating the system. They were heartbroken for the toddler in the video and alarmed that no one had tried to help the mother. So they sprang into action.
At the same time, the video may have been the push that the mother needed to persuade her to seek help.
The story began the morning of Sept. 18, when Ms. McGowen, 36, of Salem, N.H., was driving around with a friend and sniffing fentanyl, she later toldWBZ-TV in Boston. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
After picking up her daughter, Ms. McGowen went to buy diapers at the Family Dollar store in Lawrence, just over the Massachusetts border. Lawrence, an old mill town, is at the nexus of New England’s heavy drug trade.
As she was shopping in the toy aisle, Ms. McGowen collapsed and slumped to the floor on her back. Her daughter started wailing, prompting another shopper to alert a store clerk.
Employees called 911, and one began recording the scene with a cellphone.
At one point in the video, an unidentified man stepped up, called out “Mandy, Mandy” and slapped her a few times. Receiving no response, he then reached into her bag, removed a cellphone and eventually left. Otherwise, no one touched the mother or tried to comfort the daughter, who continued to cry.
The video appeared two days later on the website of The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and was released by the Lawrence police at about the same time.
“You want to draw awareness to the problem,” Mr. Cuddy said, explaining why the police had released the video.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.