One year later: East Liverpool after viral image makes world headlines

The poignant photo drove home the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic and put East Liverpool in the national spotlight

East Liverpool Police find a 4-year-old in a car with unconscious adults.

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio (WKBN) – Facebook blew up a year ago over a photo showing two people passed out, overdosed in a car with a child looking through the backseat window.

The poignant photo drove home the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic and put East Liverpool in the national spotlight.

Now, one year later, WKBN 27 First News visited the department to find out what has changed and what new challenges police there are facing.

A few minutes before that photo was taken, an off-duty East Liverpool police officer noticed a car driving erratically, nearly hitting a school bus. When the vehicle finally came to a stop, officers found 47-year-old James Acord and his girlfriend, 50-year-old Rhonda Pasek inside and unconscious from a carfentanil overdose.

In the back seat, Pasek’s 4-year-old grandson was alert and unharmed. The officer snapped a picture and it was posted to the department’s Facebook page to drive home the growing heroin problem in East Liverpool and all across Ohio. The image went viral and millions of people from around the world have seen it.

“The awareness of the public wasn’t there, but when that picture came out, you can no longer deny there was a problem,” said Chief John Lane.

Pasek and Acord were revived with Narcan. Pasek spent six months in jail, Accord got nearly a year.

WKBN 27 First News tried reaching out to Pasek and Acord but haven’t been able to directly contact them. We were able to talk with Josh Lytel of Family Care Ministries who worked with Acord for months after his incarceration and is himself a recovering heroin addict. He believes things are better in the city of East Liverpool since the image of Acord and Pasek’s overdose was released.

“I really feel like we are making tremendous change for the positive. We really are,” Lytel said.

Mayor Ryan Stovall agrees, saying it is harder to get drugs in East Liverpool now.

“We figured there would be some backlash, which there was, but it turned out to be a lot more positive than negative,” Stovall said.

When asked if he regretted the decision at all, Stovall said, “Not even in the slightest.”

The boy in the photo has since gone to live with relatives in the Carolinas.

Overdoses have gone down in East Liverpool. In 2016, there were 12 overdoses within the city. So far this year, there have been two.

Just this week, the East Liverpool Police Department was awarded a $50,000 grant to fund programs, often called Quick Response Teams, to help addicts after they are encountered by police.

WKBN 27 First News is dedicated to helping our area battle the heroin crisis. Our special coverage continues next Wednesday, Sept. 13, with a special dedicated to the impact on families. It will air at 7 p.m. right here on WKBN.

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