The terrified toddler in the pink pajamas prods, pulls and cries, but she is powerless to wake her mother.
The 36-year-old mother, identified by news outlets as Mandy McGowen, lies unconscious in the toy aisle of a Lawrence, Mass., Family Dollar store, after an apparent drug overdose, police said.
Even for law enforcement veterans such as Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick, the dramatic video shot by a store employee Sunday is hard to watch.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a child in that situation,” he said. “We do see children in these kind of situations at times, and it shows you the power of addiction.”
The child has been removed from her mother’s custody, officials said.
In Massachusetts, officials say, tragic scenes like the one captured on camera have become almost commonplace. The state finds itself in the grip of a heroin epidemic so deadly that the state’s overdose rate is more than twice the national average, according to the Boston Globe.
“A substantial and spiking number of overdoses in Massachusetts involves both heroin and prescription drugs, something you rarely find elsewhere in the United States,” the paper reported.
“Massachusetts saw an estimated 1,659 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2015, according to the latest figures from the Department of Public Health. Twenty-two of them were in Lawrence, a city that officials say has become a waypoint for heroin trafficking through the Merrimack Valley to northern New England and Canada.”
Police say McGowen could have been another statistic if emergency responders hadn’t rushed to the scene and given her two doses of Narcan, a prescription drug that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses overdoses.
Fitzpatrick said police who responded to the scene found drug paraphernalia in a diaper bag belonging to McGowen, a resident of Salem, N.H.
“An officer found Baggies and straws with drug residue on them,” Fitzpatrick said. “She could’ve been killed.”
Fitzpatrick said police plan to formally charge McGowen with child endangerment in the coming weeks, but they lack the evidence to bring drug charges against her.
McGowen’s 2-year-old child was taken into custody by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), according to a statement provided by the department.
“On Sunday, the Department of Children and Families received a report on this situation and took emergency custody of the child. Due to state and federal confidentiality laws, we cannot provide any further information,” the statement said.
A DCF official told The Washington Post that the agency is investigating the incident captured on camera.
State law allows the agency to take emergency custody of a child if “the department has reasonable cause to believe a child’s health or safety is in immediate danger from abuse or neglect” and if the agency “has reasonable cause to believe that the removal is necessary to protect the child from abuse or neglect,” according to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 119, Section 51B.
McGowen, meanwhile, told WBZ-TV that Sunday’s overdose was her rock-bottom moment.
She told the station that she’d sniffed fentanyl, a narcotic, earlier in the day when she received a call to pick up her daughter. After picking up the toddler, she decided to purchase diapers at the Family Dollar, but remembers nothing else.
“It shouldn’t have happened period,” she told the station. “I shouldn’t have taken anything or been where I was or who I was with.”
“If I knew I was going to be like that I wouldn’t have had my daughter with me,” she added. “That’s not what I want my daughter to see, her holding my hand trying to get me up and crying her eyes out.”
Now that she has lost her daughter, she told WBZ-TV, she’s more determined to beat her addiction so she can regain custody of her child.
“Don’t judge me. I had a 2-year-old there, and where I go people are pointing and it hurts,” she said.
Lawrence Police Capt. Roy Vasque, who leads the department’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, told the Eagle Tribune he wasn’t particularly surprised by the video from Family Dollar. Increasingly, he told the paper, police are encountering heroin users who bring their children with them to purchase drugs or expose them to their addiction.
“To put a child in such a situation shows how strong the addiction is,” he said.
“We certainly point that out to them,” he added. “We’ll say, ‘Do you understand the danger you are putting your child in?’ ”