The viral video that showed Ronald Hiers bent over a bench, overdosing on a batch of heroin that nearly killed him, has turned him into many things: a parable on the horrors of drug abuse, a recovering addict, a punchline.

But as Hiers stared at the TV and watched the low point of his addiction, he said most people missed the most important thing the scene shows.

“I am a son. A husband. A brother. A grandfather. A father. I'm a human being,” he told Memphis CBS-affiliate WREG. “That's what so many people missed about it. Those were two human beings.”

Hiers and his wife, Carla, of Memphis had just gotten high in the bathroom of a Walgreens on an afternoon in October.


“We went to catch the bus and it caught up with us while we were waiting,” he told a reporter. “You saw the result.”

So did millions of others.


In the videos, Carla Hiers is doubled over, her face mashed against the concrete sidewalk. She groans and makes several unsuccessful attempts to get up.

Ronald Hiers, who had fallen backward onto the grass while clutching his cellphone, doesn't stir as people laugh and jeer around him. One man checks his pulse and declares that he's still alive.

Mostly though, people pointed their cameras at the unconscious couple.

“Facebook land, this is f----- up right here,” Courtland Garner said in the most widely seen video of the Hiers couple's overdose. “This bruh might be dead. This n----- dead. Oh no, he ain't dead. . . . White lives matter, somebody help these people.”


Garner stopped recording as paramedics arrived to revive the Hiers couple. But his video alone has been seen by more than 3 million people on Facebook. Even more watched on copies posted to YouTube or broadcast by TV news stations.


One of those viewers was the Hiers couple's estranged daughter. She called her parents after more than a decade and begged them to go to rehab.

The couple's overdose story was one of the latest to be broadcast to the world as scenes from an American heroin epidemic intersect with the near ubiquity of camera-equipped cellphones.

In September, a Family Dollar store employee in Massachusetts recorded a toddler in pink pajamas crying and pulling on her unconscious mother, who had overdosed and collapsed in the toy aisle.


The mother, who survived, was charged with child endangerment. Her daughter was placed under the care of child protective services.

Also that month, authorities in the Ohio city of East Liverpool released a photo of a man and a woman overdosing inside a vehicle that police said had been moving erratically. The driver was barely conscious; the passenger was turning blue. In the back: a 4-year-old boy restrained in a car seat.


Someone at the scene snapped a photo of the gruesome incident, and the city posted it on its Facebook page “to show the other side of this horrible drug.”

In 2015, 1,451 people died of drug overdoses in Tennessee, the highest number recorded in state history, according to the state's Department of Health. Opioids, which mimic the effects of heroin, are a significant factor in the high number, the department said, accounting for 72 percent of the deaths.


Recovering in Memphis, Ronald Hiers said he doesn't feel angry at the people who snapped the videos. They didn't put him or his wife in that situation, he told CNN.

After being addicted to heroin for decades, the 61-year-old entered a treatment facility. His wife also sought help.

Watching the video was a reminder of why he needs to be there.

“It feels like I'm watching the most powerful thing I've ever seen. You have to hit your rock bottom, and for me that was mine.

“The video was the best thing that happened to me. It got us in a position to get help, to get cared for.”

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