Do Online Videos of Drug Users Help or Hurt?

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As opioid deaths have soared, police departments and strangers with cameras have started posting raw, uncensored images of drug users passed out with needles in their arms and babies in the back seats of their cars. The videos rack up millions of views and unleash avalanches of outrage, the New York Times reports. Life is never the same for the people whose bleakest, most humiliating moments live online forever. Several of them discussed with the newspaper the versions of themselves captured in the videos. Before the videos, users shuffled unnoticed from the streets to rehab to jail and back in a cycle of use and arrests. Their anonymity disappeared as news cameras showed up at their front doors and reporters attended their court dates on charges including drug possession and child endangerment.

Angry Facebook messages arrived months or years later, when strangers stumbled across the videos. For some, the viral attention helped, as rehab centers and drug counselors reached out, waived fees and helped them bypass waiting lists to get into treatment. Addiction experts say the videos are doing little else than publicly shaming drug users, and the blunt horror of the images may increase the stigma against them. Users disagree on whether the humiliation helped them clean up their lives. “We’re showing you this video of them at the worst, most humiliating moment of their life,” said Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group. “The intent is not to help these people. The intent is to use them as an object lesson by scapegoating them.” Police departments say they are simply trying to reveal the brutal reality of what they see every day.

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