By Deanna Hackney
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — The photo is shocking. A young mother passed out in the front seat of her car, a syringe clutched in her fist.
What you can’t see in the photo is the back seat, where her infant son sat crying.
That was a year ago this month — but for Erika Hurt, it might as well be a lifetime.
The 26-year-old Indiana woman says she has been clean since that day, doting on her son and working a full-time job.
And the photo, which at first was a source of anger and humiliation, illustrates the slippery line between sobriety and despair.
“I was sober. I stopped going to meetings. I forgot about how bad the addiction got,” Hunt told CNN about that period in her life last year. “This photo helped me look back. It’s a constant reminder that sobriety needs to be worked at.”
The day the photo was shot
The day the photograph was taken, Hurt had parked in the lot of a dollar store in Hope, Indiana, to shoot up heroin. She had gotten out of a month-long stint in rehab just two weeks earlier. Her 10-month-old son was in the back seat.
She rationalized his presence the same way a lot of addicts do while using in front their kids, she said: They’re asleep. Or they’re too young to realize what’s going on.
The last thing Hurt remembers from that day is pulling into the parking lot. She later learned a customer found her slumped over in the car and called 911.
It took officers two doses of Narcan, the drug used to reverse an overdose in an emergency situation, to revive her.
“Had this woman not passed out from this and attempted to drive right afterward, she could have (driven) down the road, passed out two minutes later and hit a car with a family in it, killed every one of them,” Hope Town Marshal Matthew Tallent told CNN at the time. “That’s the thing that’s so shocking to me to think about.”
What happened next
After a brief hospital stay came jail. Hunt had violated her probation from a previous charge in 2014.
While she was waiting for her sentencing date, a local reporter requested an interview. Then another asked, and another.
She didn’t think much of it at the time. She found out why when she was watching the evening news.
A police officer had snapped a photo of her passed out in the car. It soon went viral.
“I felt very humiliated, I felt very angry,” she said. “You know, it was hard for me to truly believe that it was me.”
Hurt’s story fits into a grim pattern, as research shows heroin use is on the rise in the US. The most recent United Nations’ World Drug Report found that 914,000 people aged 12 years or older reported using heroin in 2014 — a 145% increase since 2007.
Where she is now
Hunt has been fighting addiction all her life, she says.
“I had been an addict since I was 15 years old,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was 21 that I began seeking help — and I was failing at it. ”
The overdose, captured in the photo, led to Hunt getting clean.
She was sentenced to six months of intense rehab in a locked-down facility — one that focused on the underlying issues of addiction and how to cope with them.
She’s part of WRAP (Women Recovering with a Purpose), a program that requires continued meetings with a therapist, a sobriety coach and multiple “self care” classes such as Narcotics Anonymous every week.
Now, she works more than 40 hours a week at a local factory. She also cares for her son, but her mom has guardianship.
At this point, her focus is on staying the course.
“If you are sober and healthy,” she said, “then you can take care of everybody else.”
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