An Alabama police officer is being commended for showing that police officers aren’t just peacekeepers, but nurturers, comforters, and caretakers, too. In a now-viral Facebook photo, Officer Michelle Burton can be seen holding a one-month-old baby girl, sleeping peacefully in the officer’s arms after her parents were rushed to the hospital for a drug overdose. Also waiting in the precinct were the baby girl’s 7-year-old sister, 2-year-old brother, and 3-year-old brother.
“I didn’t even know their names,” Officer Burton later told Inside Edition. “I just [knew] they needed to be taken care of, and that’s what we did.”
According to Inside Edition, Burton and other officers had stayed well after their shifts ended to make sure all four young children were cared for and comforted. Another officer snapped a photo of the touching moment before sending it on to Burton’s husband, Brian, who in turn posted it in Facebook, where it’s since gone viral.
“Last night, my wife Michelle Burton told me she would be late getting off work because of a call she was on where the parents of 4 small children had both overdosed,” read Brian’s caption. “She spent the rest of the night taking care of these babies. She got home at 4 this morning.”
“I’ve never seen her more beautiful than in this picture,” he continued. “What an incredible woman.”
To be honest, though, the photo is poignant for a lot of reasons.
Aside from the obvious tug it gives to our collective heartstrings, the story behind the image also reveals a sobering truth: It offers a glimpse into the devastating impact addiction and substance abuse is having on families across America. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates from drug overdoses have increased 137% since the year 2000 — including a 200% increase in death rates related to opioid-related overdoses (opioid painkillers and heroin).
Even more startling, women are the fastest-growing segment of the population impacted by substance abuse. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc., up to 4.5 million women over age 12 in the U.S. have a substance use disorder, 3.5 million misuse prescription drugs, and 3.1 million regularly use illicit drugs. Each year, over 200,000 American women die as a result of alcoholism and drug dependence, with more than 4 million women in need of treatment for their addiction.
In the Alabama case, the children’s parents were reportedly taken to the hospital after their 7-year-old daughter couldn’t get them to wake up. The mother is reportedly still in critical condition, but the father had died once officers arrived.
“The oldest one, the 7-year-old, you can tell she was thinking about things a lot, but when you talked to her, she wouldn’t say anything,” Burton told Inside Edition. “They didn’t act sad at any point. They didn’t really know what was going on, so they just went with it.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse problem, visit SAMHSA.gov to find a treatment center near you, or call 1-800-662-HELP.