How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose?

Amid an opioid crisis, police and strangers with cameras are posting raw images of drug users passed out. For those whose bleakest moments now live online, life is never the same.

The first time Kelmae Hemphill watched herself overdose, she sobbed. There she was in a shaky video filmed by her own heroin dealer, sprawled out on a New Jersey road while a stranger pounded on her chest. “Come on girl,” someone pleaded.

Hemphill’s 11-year drug addiction, her criminal record, her struggles as a mother — they were now everybody’s business, splashed across the news and social media with a new genre of American horror film: the overdose video.

As opioid deaths have soared in recent years, police departments and strangers with cameras have started posting raw, uncensored images of drug users passed out with needles in their arms and babies in the back seats of their cars. The videos rack up millions of views and unleash avalanches of outrage. Then some other viral moment comes along, and the country clicks away.

But life is never the same for the people whose bleakest, most humiliating moments now live online forever. In interviews with The New York Times, they talked — some for the very first time — about the versions of themselves captured in the videos.

Hemphill’s mother watched the 2016 video of her overdose. Her friends saw it. Even her daughter, now 11, watched the images of Hemphill passed out beside a guardrail in West Deptford, New Jersey, her stomach exposed as the medics rushed in. “Why bother saving her?” asked one YouTube commenter. “I would’ve let her die,” said another.

“When you type my name in, that’s the first video that pops up — an overdose video,” Hemphill said.

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