A terrified toddler in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas prodded, pulled and cried — but was powerless to wake up her mother.
Mandy McGowan, 36, was unconscious from an apparent opioid overdose, sprawled in the toy aisle of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass. Her 2-year-old daughter pulled McGowan’s fingers, then sat down beside her and tried to shake her face.
The heart-wrenching moment was captured on video, and the footage went viral — another shocking scene from the opioid epidemic’s harrowing horror show.
McGowan, from Salem, N.H., has been in drug treatment since the Sept. 18 incident. On Monday, she emerged for a hearing in Lawrence District Court, where she was arraigned on a child endangerment charge, according to the Boston Globe.
Prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge McGowan with drug-related offenses: Overdosing is not a crime, and there was no evidence she was in possession of illicit drugs at the time of her apparent overdose, according to an Essex County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman.
McGowan pleaded not guilty and was ordered to continue her care at the Banyan Treatment Center in Wilmington and to remain drug- and alcohol-free, submitting to regular screenings, Essex County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan told The Washington Post.
She will also be required to report to probation officers twice a week by phone and to comply with the rules of the New Hampshire Department of Children and Families, Kimball Monahan said.
McGowan’s attorney, James Klotz, could not immediately be reached for comment, but he recently told CBS Boston that his client has been clean and sober for more than two months.
“This is a young lady who obviously has an issue,” Klotz told the station. “She’s dealing with that issue; she’s done everything that the Department of Children and Family Services in New Hampshire has asked her to do.”
The video, shot by a Family Dollar employee on Sept. 18, shows McGowan sprawled out in a toy aisle as her 2-year-old daughter tries in vain to help her.
The emotional scene drew a visceral response amid the dangerous and deadly drug epidemic that is sweeping the country.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a child in that situation,” Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said at the time. “We do see children in these kind of situations at times, and it shows you the power of addiction.”
Police said that when first responders arrived, they gave McGowan two doses of naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote. Police found drug paraphernalia in McGowan’s diaper bag, including “straws cut to three inches long” with “white powdery residue around the tips of them,” according to a police report cited by the Eagle-Tribune.
When McGowan came to, she reportedly told the officers she was tired and had simply “dozed off,” according to the police report.
Both McGowan and her daughter were taken to a nearby hospital.
The young girl was initially taken into custody by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families but was later released to relatives in New Hampshire, according to prosecutors.
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.
In Massachusetts, such tragic scenes have become all too common.
In fact, 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 newspaper 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.
In an interview with CBS affiliate WBZ after the incident, McGowan said she was determined to get help for her addiction.
She said she had used fentanyl that day in September and then got a call to pick up her daughter from a relative’s home; while she was out, she said, she decided to buy diapers at Family Dollar.
“If I knew I was going to be like that, I wouldn’t have had my daughter with me,” she told WBZ. “That’s not what I want my daughter to see, her holding my hand trying to get me up and crying her eyes out.”
“It shouldn’t have happened period,” McGowan told the station. “I shouldn’t have taken anything or been where I was or who I was with.”
McGowan was released earlier this week on her own recognizance. She is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 13 for a pretrial hearing.