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Widely shared, heartbreaking images of children dealing with the effects of their loved ones' heroin addiction are raising questions about whether the pictures and videos can scare addicts straight or simply exploit the youngest victims of the epidemic.
The latest of these viral posts is a Facebook video of a Youngstown, Ohio, man telling his young son that the boy's addicted mother died from an overdose. The video, which has been viewed more than 25 million times since it was posted Monday, shows the man delivering the news to his son while both are seated at a picnic table. The boy responds with disbelief before beginning to sob.
In a note accompanying the video, the man describes himself as a recovering addict and writes that he was sharing it so "addicts with children can see the seriousnes (sic) of our epidemic."
The man didn't immediately respond to interview requests left by The Associated Press with his employer and through his Facebook account.
The AP also was unable to authenticate whether the video truly showed the moment a boy learns his mother has died. The video nevertheless prompted a strong reaction online, with some criticizing the post and others praising the man for trying to send a message to fellow addicts.
The video comes on the heels of other troubling images of children affected by adults with drug problems.
One video released by a Massachusetts police department showed a crying toddler trying to wake her mother as she lay on the floor of a store following an overdose. Last month, police in the Ohio city of East Liverpool, about 40 miles south of Youngstown, released photos showing a 4-year-old boy in a vehicle with two adults slumped over after overdosing on heroin and fentanyl. The post was shared more than 28,000 times.
In both cases, police defended the images as creating awareness of the danger of opiate use.
But one drug-treatment agency head says the disturbing images are unlikely to change an addict's behavior.
"The research isn't showing that these scare tactics are very effective," said April Caraway, the executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board in Ohio's Trumbull County, which, like Youngstown, is part of a region that has been dealing with a spike in overdoses involving heroin and opiates.
Those struggling with addiction already see the dangers of heroin up close, she said.
"They've seen the worst of the worst," Caraway said. "The ones who are battling addiction continue to use."
She also doubted whether those who have yet to try heroin would be dissuaded from doing so by the posts, saying many younger people see addicts and say, "That's never going to happen to me."
Still, Caraway holds out hope that the viral nature of these types of images will reach someone struggling with addiction.
"If it works for one person, then it may be worth it."