When authorities pulled up to a Ford F-250 parked outside a casino in southwestern Florida, they were drawn into the sort of tragic scene that has been playing out across the country.
The driver, identified by police as 24-year-old Robert Huggins, was pale and sweaty; he had passed out from an apparent drug overdose, authorities said.
One of the passengers, Jordyn Demere, 20, was standing outside the vehicle – leaving her young son strapped in his car seat in the back, “sweating heavily with sweat running down his forehead and arms,” according to a police report. “The child was also tapping Huggins on the right arm, attempting to wake Huggins.”
Collier County Sheriff’s Office vice and narcotics detectives had been watching the vehicle parked outside the Seminole Hotel and Casino in Immokalee on Wednesday.
A passenger door was opened, a rear window was lowered and it appeared that the engine was turned off, police said.
Immokalee had a high of 78 degrees on Wednesday, according to Weather Underground.
Demere got out of the truck and walked to an area known for illegal drug activity, police said. Then, she returned to the truck and appeared to be hunching over Huggins, police said.
During the investigation, deputies found dirty syringes in the truck. In Demere’s purse, they found 4.7 grams of what they believed to be heroin, as well as other drug paraphernalia, according to the police report.
Huggins was rushed to a nearby hospital.
The boy, whose age was not released, was taken into protective custody, police said.
Demere was arrested and charged with possession of heroin, possession of narcotics paraphernalia and child neglect without great bodily harm, according to booking records. Her bond is set at $22,000.
Demere has not been assigned a public defender, and it’s still unclear whether she has a private attorney in the case.
It is unclear what the relationship is between Demere and Huggins.
The nationwide opioid epidemic has made moments like these all too common.
Children in particular have become innocent victims. Some have seen their parents shoot up and overdose, occasionally with fatal consequences. Others have unwittingly and unwillingly faced overdoses themselves.
In September, a photograph distributed by police showed a man and a woman slumped in a vehicle after apparently overdosing in East Liverpool, Ohio. Inside the car, a 4-year-old boy was seen still strapped into his car seat.
A week later and 600 miles away at a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass., a hysterical toddler was captured on a cellphone video as she tried to wake her mother after an apparent drug overdose. The video showed the toddler, dressed in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas, pulling her mother’s fingers, then sitting down beside her and shaking her mother’s face.
The mother was recently arraigned on a child endangerment charge.
In October, a 7-year-old girl in McKeesport, Pa., told her school bus driver that she hadn’t been able to wake the adults in her house for days, and that their bodies were beginning to change colors. She had been caring for three other children in the home – ages 5, 3 and 9 months – and had gotten herself back and forth to school, police said. Her parents were then found dead by authorities.
A couple in Washington state made national news in November when police said they had been injecting their young children with heroin, which they reportedly called “feel good medicine.”
“The kids lived in deplorable conditions,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Detective Ed Troyer told The Post at the time. “It wasn’t a good living situation even without the issue of heroin.”
“We unfortunately find kids living in deplorable conditions all too often, but we don’t see parents intentionally putting drugs into kids,” he added.
Then earlier this month, a 30-year-old woman in Sarasota, Florida., shot up in a Wawa convenience store bathroom with a 4-year-old in tow – “because the drive to use” was too strong to ignore, police said.
After this week’s incident in Immokalee, Kristine Gill, a spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, told The Washington Post that it is rare for authorities in the county to see overdoses with children present.
“We feel that Collier County does not have as severe a drug problem as other Florida counties when it comes to heroin overdoses,” she said in an email.
Synthetic opioids, including heroin and its deadlier cousin, fentanyl, are the main drivers of overdose deaths across the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2015, opioid deaths continued to climb, with more than 33,000 fatalities across the country – the highest figure in recent history, according to data released Thursday by the CDC. As The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham reported, that marks an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014. Deaths involving powerful synthetic opiates, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015.
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
After Wednesday’s incident in Florida, an addiction counselor in Naples said some addicts “can’t stop using.”
“They don’t think about the impact of their kids or their work or loved ones,” said Mariana Perez, a counselor with the David Lawrence Center, according to NBC affiliate WBBH. “They can’t make that connection.”
Demere, the woman who was charged in the incident, has a history of drug charges, from marijuana possession last month to heroin possession over the summer, according to online arrest records.
Huggins, who was found unconscious from an apparent overdose, was not arrested or charged with a crime because he was not in possession of narcotics or paraphernalia, police said.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Lindsey Bever