A young child was found in the back seat of a car as the toddler’s unconscious parents allegedly suffered a drug overdose, the fourth incident of its kind shared by officials in less than a week that may shed light on the country’s growing heroin problem.
Steven and Christine McCullen were allegedly found in their car in a North Carolina McDonald’s parking lot on Monday, allegedly passed out among syringes as well as opened and unopened packages of what Goldsboro Police suspect is heroin.
Their uninjured 3-year-old child was found in the back seat of the car and taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital before being released into the custody of social services, police said.
The McCullens were arrested and each charged with one count of possession of schedule 1 drug, possession of drug paraphernalia and child abuse, authorities said. Steven McCullen was also charged with DWI.
Steven McCullen received a $12,000 secure bond, while Christine McCullen received a $10,000 secure bond. They remained in custody at the Wayne County Jail Thursday, records showed.
“There has been an increase in cases such as this one,” police said in a news release, urging the public to call police if they spot out-of-place vehicles.
The public’s awareness of similar incidents has also increased, as law enforcement and witnesses release footage of what they say are the after effects — and the young victims — of heroin use.
That same day in Miami, police said they discovered an infant near her allegedly incoherent mother after responding to a fender bender.
An unconscious man was discovered slumped over the wheel of the car and the child’s mother in the grass about five feet from the vehicle, police told reporters. The baby was in a car seat next to her mother, cops said.
Photos of the baby being comforted by an officer were tweeted by the Miami Police Department, which wrote the child’s parents had possibly overdosed on heroin.
The photos of the Miami incident were posted three days after police in Ohio released sobering images of a somber little boy in the backseat of an SUV as his grandmother and another man were slumped over in front.
“He’s completely emotionless. That’s the way he acts the whole [time],” East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane told InsideEdition.com at the time. “It’s a photo that needs to be shared … This is a major issue that needs to be dealt with. It’s happening all over and little kids are caught up in this... It’s very frustrating.”
In that incident, an officer traveling to work watched as the Ford Explorer served, braked hard and skidded to a stop behind a school bus and finally drifted onto an adjoining stop, a probable cause affidavit said.
The officer said the driver, identified as 47-year-old James Acord, passed out after saying he was taking his passenger to the hospital. His passenger, 50-year-old Rhonda Pasek, was also unconscious and began to turn blue.
EMS responded to the scene and administered Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, according to police. They were taken to a nearby hospital and later taken to Columbiana County Jail.
Acord pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, endangering children and slowing or stopping in a roadway, and will spend 360 days in jail, officials said.
Pasek was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading no contest to a child endangerment charge Thursday.
Days after the photos released by the East Liverpool Police gained international attention, a Milwaukee woman shared footage she captured of a similar incident in March.
The graphic video shared with WISN showed a woman and man passed out in the front of their car with a toddler in the back seat trying to get out.
“He was in the back seat. He was trying to get out,” the woman, referred to as Theresa, told WISN. “He was walking around the car, and the car was running.”
Narcan was reportedly administered to treat Victoria Warzyniakowski, 27, and 41-year-old Matthew Huber, who were both convicted of child neglect.
Police said they found more than 200 pills in a bottle from Huber's pocket, nearly all of them opioids. Huber died last week from another apparent overdose.
“People like to bury their heads in the sand about this, but it’s an issue that’s reached almost epidemic proportions,” Lane said. “People like to pretend it’s just here... but this is the whole country.”
The United States has seen a meteoric rise in heroin use in recent years, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary.
From 2007 to 2014, the number of people reporting current heroin use nearly tripled from 161,000 to 435,000, the report showed.
Deaths due to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and its analogues, increased 79 percent from 2013 to 2014, while deaths involving heroin more than tripled from 3,036 to 10,574 between 2010 and 2014 — a rate that has spiked high above that of other illicit drugs, officials said.
The agency said the heroin threat is particularly high in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest areas of the United States. Law enforcement agencies in cities across the country have reported seizing larger than usual quantities of heroin.
“We tend to overuse words such as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘horrific,’ but the death and destruction connected to heroin and opioids is indeed unprecedented and horrific,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg after the report was released.
“The problem is enormous and growing, and all of our citizens need to wake up to these facts.”