Dr. Drew Talks Viral Video Featuring Toddler Crying Above Overdosed Mother: "I'm Confused by People's Shock"

Doctor, Dr. Drew Pinsky - Getty - H 2016
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The addiction medicine specialist says the videos should be educational for the general public. "This is a visual representation of the numbers we talk about every day."

It's not the type of viral video that many internet users are eager to play, nor is it a clip that leads many to smile, laugh or share. However, the video of a toddler crying and pulling at her mother's limp, lifeless body — believed to be the result of a heroin overdose or another opiate-based narcotic — on the floor of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass., has still been widely circulated on social media this week and picked up by national news outlets.

A fellow shopper took the disturbing footage and authorities in Lawrence circulated it online, an act that has grown in popularity as police turn to social media to provide a real-life reflection of a growing epidemic in the U.S.

The act is a divisive one, and that response confuses addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky. While the TV and radio personality admits it's a complicated issue — seeing children and unresponsive addicts in a vulnerable state without their permission — he lands squarely on this side of the argument: "What's the big deal?"

"This is a visual representation of the numbers we talk about every day," Pinsky told The Hollywood Reporter during a phone conversation on Friday afternoon about the video and the opiate addiction problem sweeping the nation. "It's a massive, massive epidemic."

What is your take on law enforcement releasing these types of videos?

Let's first clarify the clips we are talking about. There are photos of two parents passed out in a minivan with their children in the back, and then there is a video of a woman passed out in a [Family Dollar store]. First of all, I'm a little confused by people's shock, dismay or outrage at these videos. When we discuss the numbers associated with opioid addiction, this is what we are talking about. We're not talking about businessmen wearing ties popping pills at lunchtime. This is where opiate addiction goes. This is what it looks like. When you hear about the thousands of people dying every month from opiate addiction, and the millions of people affected by prescription medication abuse, this is it. This is what it looks like. I'm stunned people have any confusion about what it is they are looking at when they play these videos. Number one: This is the picture of the number we've been telling you about for a long time. Number two: The cops put it out there because they thought it was important for the public to see what they deal with all day every day. This is not an unusual occurrence for them. This is what is going on in our country. Number three: We live in a time when people post videos of one another all the time. That's a common thing, particularly when people do things in public — people pull out a phone and they post it. I don't know why law enforcement shouldn't be allowed to do the same thing. Number four: The question is, "What about the minors and the children involved? Why don't they have some rights that need to be protected?" I don't know legally if someone's rights are being infringed upon by doing this. I actually doubt it. I think there are privacy issues that should be kind of figured out.

There is a certain amount of discomfort I have just generally about a municipal employee posting videos of the citizens. There is something peculiar about that, but if there is good motivation to try to improve the health and well-being of the citizenry, OK. I'm for it. And then finally, people somehow believe that this is shaming to the addicts and the people who are the subjects of these videos. They don't care. The addict cares about getting drugs and getting high. They are moving on. They are not going to be particularly disturbed by this. These videos are being put up for the rest of us. These videos are being put up for anyone who might be taking pills but not understanding that this is where they are going. Or for family members who need motivation to get them help or anyone who wonders what the nature of this problem is. This is educational for the rest of us. This is not going to be shaming for the addicts. If it is, maybe it will be one of the things that motivates them to get well. If so, we should do anything and everything possible.

The strategy, police say, is to show what addiction can do to someone under the influence, as well as its effects on children and families. Do you think it is or can be an effective strategy?

I doubt it has any real effects on the objects of the video, but I do believe that the rest of us that are into our diseases or who know family members who are struggling, this is an educational video for us and to remind us of what this is. This is not an unusual spot or unusual consequence of opiate addiction. This is where it goes. It's really for the rest of us. Loveline was a show about listening to callers and learning from these little cases. The individual callers probably weren't going to change direction that much, and it wasn't meant to be treatment for them. But it is meant to be educational for the rest of us. This is the same. Maybe this will help motivate [someone] to help take care of [themselves] or someone [they] love. I have found that there are only a few things that motivate somebody to wake up and break through their denial of opiate addiction: losing your life, losing your freedom, and losing your child or a family member or relationship.

I know you've treated many people who are in similar situations, some of whom get sober and go on to lead successful lives. Others, unfortunately, have died as a result of overdoses or suicide. Does watching these videos bring back any of those memories for you or make you think of particular patients?

It reminds me of my average patient. If you want me to tell you the reminder, the reminder for me is that if my patients die, they die of a prescription medication — someone prescribing opioids and prescription medication to them. That's what they die of almost without exception — 95 out of 100 patients who die of addiction today, die with a prescription at their bedside given to them by one of my peers. Not illicit drugs. Not something they are taking from the streets. A prescription someone gave them. The combination of benzodiazepines and opiates is so fatal. So dangerous. It's astonishing to me that it's ever prescribed.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that most of these videos, at least the ones I've seen this year, have been of heroin and opioid abusers. Is this because those drugs have seen a significant rise in abuse?

If you're taking a drug that will make you pass out, that's the drug. It's the one that law enforcement will be interacting with. And it's exceedingly common today.

We don't see these types of videos with other forms of drug abuse really. Why is that?

Pot is not going to do that to you. Cocaine is not going to do that to you. Meth is not going to do that to you. Alcohol will do that to you, but most people do that at home. We've sort of kept that off the streets. And benzodiazepines, those will do it too, but those are usually prescribed with opiates. What else? PCP? No. Bath salts? Doesn't look like that.

What's the solution?

We're getting to it. Awareness is one. Here we are having this conversation, so: good. The police have helped us with that. It's in the press and we are talking about it and thinking about it. Physicians are getting the message they need to stop overprescribing. The message we are not getting is that these people need to go to treatment. They are not bad people. They are not bad patients. They may not behave in the best ways when they are in their disease but that is because they are sick, and if they are sick because of things we are giving them, we need to help them get well. Treatment works. It's cumbersome, it's expensive and it takes time, but people can get well. They have to get to treatment.

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